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A powerful new film on what's wrong with the U.S. media is now being screened around the country. It's called Shadows of Liberty and you can set up a screening of it as part of an upcoming international week of actions for whistleblowers called Stand Up For Truth. Or you can buy the DVD or catch it on Link TV. (Here in Charlottesville I'll be speaking at the event, May 19, 7 p.m. at The Bridge.)
Judith Miller is on a rehabilitative book tour; the Washington Post recently reported that a victim of Baltimore police murder broke his own spine; and recently leaked emails from the State Department asked Sony to entertain us into proper war support. The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner was just blocked, for now, but the existence of those mega-monopolies in their current form is at the root of the problem, according to Shadows of Liberty.
Allowing for-profit companies to decide what we learn about the world and our government, allowing those companies to consolidate into a tiny cartel controlling the formerly public airwaves, allowing them to be owned by much larger companies that rely on the government for weapons contracts, and allowing them to determine politicians' access to the public and to bribe politicians with "campaign contributions" -- this, in the analysis of Shadows of Liberty, this subservience of public space to private profit is what creates news that misinforms, that takes no interest in the poor, that propagandizes for wars, and that shuts out any journalist who steps out of line.
The film is not primarily analysis, but example. The first example is of Roberta Baskin's reports for CBS on Nike's labor abuses in Asia. CBS killed her big story in exchange for Nike paying CBS so much money that CBS agreed to have all of its "journalists" wear Nike logos during their olympics "coverage."
Another example from CBS in the film is the shooting down of TWA flight 800 by the U.S. Navy, a case of media cowardice and government intimidation, which I wrote about here. As Shadows of Liberty points out, CBS was at the time owned by Westinghouse which had big military contracts. As a for-profit business, there was no question where it would side between one good reporter and the Pentagon. (This is exactly why the owner of the Washington Post shouldn't be someone with much larger funding flowing in from the CIA.)
The New York Timesseemed impressed by an earlier film devoted entirely to the TWA flight 800 mass-killing. The Times favored a new investigation but lamented the supposed lack of any entity that could credibly perform an investigation. The U.S. government comes off as so untrustworthy in the film that it can't be trusted to re-investigate itself. So a leading newspaper, whose job it ought to be to investigate the government, feels at a loss for what to do without a government that can credibly and voluntarily perform the media's own job for it and hold itself accountable. Pathetic. If only Nike were offering to pay the New York Times to investigate the government!
Another example in the bad media highlight reel in Shadows of Liberty is the case of Gary Webb's reporting on the CIA and crack cocaine, also the subject of a recent movie. Another is, inevitably, the propaganda that launched the 2003 attack on Iraq. I just read an analysis of Judith Miller's role that blamed her principally for not correcting her "mistakes" when the lies were exposed. I disagree. I blame her principally for publishing claims that were ludicrous at the time and which she never would have published if made by any non-governmental entity or any of 199 of the 200 national governments on earth. Only the U.S. government gets that treatment from its U.S. media partners in crime -- and in fact only certain elements within the U.S. government. While Colin Powell lied to the world and much of the world laughed, but the U.S. media bowed down, his son pushed through yet more media consolidation. I agree with the recommendation of Shadows of Liberty to blame the media owners, but that doesn't subtract any blame from the employees.
To the credit of Shadows of Liberty it includes among the stories it tells some examples of complete media silence. The story of Sibel Edmonds, for example, was totally whited out by the U.S. mega-media, although not abroad. Another example would be Operation Merlin (the CIA's giving of nuclear plans to Iran), not to mention the extension of Operation Merlin to Iraq. Dan Ellsberg says in the film that a government official will tell the big newspapers to leave a story alone, and the other outlets will "follow the lead of silence."
The U.S. public airwaves were given to private companies in 1934 with big limits on monopolies later stripped out by Reagan and Clinton and the Congresses that worked with them. The 1996 Telecom Act signed by Clinton created the mega-monopolies that have destroyed local news and already guaranteed his wife a 2016 presidential nomination on the basis of the money she'll spend on TV ads.
The bad media's greatest hits are finding a miniature progressive echo-chamber but are not, in fact, isolated cases. Rather they are extreme examples that have taught lessons to countless other "journalists" who have sought to keep their jobs by never stepping out of line in the first place.
The problem with the corporate media is not particular incidents, but how it always reports on everything including the government (which always means well) and wars (there must always be more) and the economy (it must grow and enrich investors) and people (they are helpless and powerless). The particular story lines that do the most damage are not always inherently the worst. Rather, they are those that make it into the general corporate echo-chamber.
The Washington Post sometimes admits exactly what it does wrong but counts on most people never to notice, because such articles will not be repeated and discussed in all the papers and on all the shows.
According to Shadows of Liberty, 40-70% of "news" is based on ideas that come from corporate PR departments. Another good chunk, I suspect, comes from government PR departments. A plurality in the U.S. in the last poll I saw believed Iraq had benefitted from the war on Iraq and was grateful. A Gallup poll of 65 countries at the end of 2013 found the U.S. widely believed the be the greatest threat to peace on earth, but within the U.S., as a glaring result of nothing but ludicrous propaganda, Iran was deemed worthy of that honor.
The Tonight Show regularly asks people if they can name a senator and then if they can name some cartoon character, etc., showing that people know stupid stuff. Ha ha. But that's how the corporate media shapes people, and clearly the U.S. government doesn't object enough to do anything about it. If nobody knows your name, they won't be protesting you anytime soon. And there's never any need to worry about being reelected.
Shadows of Liberty is long on problem and short on solution, but its value is in exposing people to an understanding of the problem. And the solution offered is just right, as far as it goes. The solution offered is to keep the internet open and use it. I agree. And one of the ways in which we ought to use it is to popularize foreign reporting on the United States that outdoes domestic reporting. If media tends to report well only on nations in which it is not based, and yet it's all equally accessible online, we need to start finding and reading the media about our country produced in others. In the process, perhaps we can develop some sense of caring what 95% of humanity thinks about this 5%. And in that process perhaps we can weaken nationalism just a bit.
Independent media is the solution proposed, not public media, and not a restoration of the corporate media to its earlier not-quite-so-awful form. The shrinking of newsrooms is to be lamented, of course, but perhaps the recruitment of foreign news rooms and independent bloggers can mitigate that loss in a way that imploring the monopolists to do better won't achieve. I think that part of the solution is creating better independent media, but part of it is finding, reading, appreciating, and using independent and foreign media. And part of that shift in attitude should be dropping the absurd idea of "objectivity," understood as point-of-viewlessness. Another part should be redefining our reality to exist without the blessing of the corporate media, so that we can be inspired to build activist movements whether or not they are on corporate TV. This includes, of course, persuading independent media to invest in stories that are ignored by corporations, not just focus on retelling in a better way the stories the corporations tell wrong.
Independent media has long been the most bang we could get for a buck donated to a useful cause. The next year-and-a-half is a real opportunity, because a completely broken U.S. election system expects hundreds of millions of dollars from well-meaning people to be given to candidates to give to the TV networks to whom we gave our airwaves. What if we withheld some of that money and built up our own media and activism structures? And why think of the two (media and activism) as separate? I think the jury is still out on The Intercept as new independent media, but it's already far superior to the Washington Post.
No independent media will be perfect. I wish Shadows of Liberty didn't glorify the American revolution to sounds of cannon fire. Later we hear President Reagan calling the Contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers" while the film shows dead bodies -- as if the American revolution produced none of those. But the point that free press, as theoretically provided by the first amendment, is critical to self-governance is right on. The first step in creating freedom of the press is publicly identifying its absence and the causes.
The Lasting Pain from Vietnam Silence
May 1, 2015
Editor Note: Many reflections on America’s final days in Vietnam miss the point, pondering whether the war could have been won or lamenting the fate of U.S. collaborators left behind. The bigger questions are why did the U.S. go to war and why wasn’t the bloodletting stopped sooner, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern reflects.
By Ray McGovern
Ecclesiastessays there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. The fortieth anniversary of the ugly end of the U.S. adventure in Vietnam is a time to speak – and especially of the squandered opportunities that existed earlier in the war to blow the whistle and stop the killing.
Keeping the Pentagon honest: 40 Years After the Liberation of Vietnam, Washington is Saying it was a US Victory and a Good War
By Dave Lindorff
In this podcast of the latest "This Can't Be Happening!" weekly broadcast on PRN.fm, ThisCantBeHappening.net collective member John Grant, a Vietnam War veteran and long-time peace activist, talks with show host Dave Lindorff about a Veterans for Peace campaign to counter the Pentagon's latest PR initiative to rewrite and distort the history of the Vietnam War. Grant says the VFP's Vietnam War Full Disclosure Project is calling out the Pentagon to correct the historical falsehoods in its multi-million-dollar 50th Year Commemoration of the Vietnam War propaganda program.
Our rights are forgotten: The Government/Corporate Encryption Debate is About How Best to Spy on You
By Alfredo Lopez
A debate, going on in the quasi-private and well-catered halls of government-corporate collusion, has reached the post-smoldering stage. It's now a virtual forest fire in full public view.
It pits government spies against corporate cannibals and is about the often misunderstood and somewhat tedious issue of encryption.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
On April 7, Wisconsin's Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted 2-1 to ban those employed by the agency from doing any work pertaining to climate change or global warming while doing public lands related work.
Real-time photo evidence of a cop planting evidence on his victim: Killer Cops like Officer Slager Must be Called to Account
By Dave Lindorff
As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out, until a video surfaced of South Carolina policeman Michael Slager murdering Walter Scott, the media was reporting a package of lies manufactured by the police: a fight that never occurred, witnesses who didn't exist, the victim taking the policeman's taser, etc. The lies collapsed because the video appeared.
I find myself asking why videos of missiles blowing children into little bits and pieces can't dissolve the stories churned out by the Pentagon. With several qualifications, I think part of the answer is that there are not enough videos. The struggle for the right to videotape the police at home in the United States should be accompanied by a campaign to provide video cameras to populations targeted for wars. Of course the struggle to videotape people dying under a bombing campaign is at least as great a challenge as videotaping a murderous policeman, but enough cameras would produce some footage.
There are other parts to the answer as well, of course. One is complexity, exacerbated by intentional obfuscation. To explain the current war in Yemen, the Washington Post finds someone to quote saying, "nobody can figure out either who started this fight or how to end it."
Really? Nobody? The second U.S.-armed dictator in the past few years is overthrown by militants empowered by opposition to U.S.-armed dictatorship. This after a Yemeni man told the U.S. Congress to their faces that the U.S. drone strikes were empowering terrorists. A larger neighboring U.S.-armed dictatorship in Saudi Arabia starts bombing and threatening to take over, as in nearby U.S.-armed dictatorship Bahrain. Saudi U.S. weapons are destroying piles of Yemeni U.S. weapons, and nobody can figure anything out?
Here are some U.S. children hiding from Soviet nukes many years ago, and a Yemeni child hiding from U.S. drone strikes more recently (source). How does that alone not indict anyone?
Here are photos and stories of innocent children murdered with U.S. drones in Yemen. How does that not indict anyone?
Beyond complexity and obfuscation and the justification of pretended rationales and euphemized explanations like "collateral damage," lies the problem of getting Americans to give a damn about people far away. But the U.S. government is horrified by the idea of releasing more photos and videos of torture in Abu Ghraib. It seems that direct, personal violence, even short of murder, is seen as more offensive than mass-murder by aerial assault.
I think these weaknesses in how visual documentation of killing in war is perceived can be overcome, and that in fact a greater volume of videos and photos obtained more rapidly could have a qualitative impact. Most Americans imagine a video like collateral murder to be an exception. Most have no idea at all that U.S. wars are one-sided slaughters killing primarily civilians and overwhelmingly the people who live where the wars are fought. One video of a family being dismembered by a bomb could be dismissed as accidental. Tens of thousands of such videos could not be.
Of course, logically, war victim selfie videos ought not to be needed. It's no secret that the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Libya have fueled greater violence and failed utterly to drop little baskets of liberty and democracy on the people being burned to death. It ought to be no secret that 80 to 90 percent of the weapons in the supposedly inherently violent region of the Middle East are U.S.-made. The White House does not deny that it has significantly increased weapons sales to that region among others. With no plan for success and open confession that "there is no military solution" it rushes more weapons into war after war with no end in sight.
But words don't seem to do the job. Explaining that police were getting away with murder wasn't producing any indictments. A video finally indicted a cop. Now we need the video that can indict the world's policeman.
NY Times covers up Washington’s monstrous evil: Hiding America’s War Crimes in Laos, While Reporting on the Grim Results
By Dave Lindorff
By Dave Lindorff
When I lived in China, there was a story going ‘round about a China Airlines flight in which both the pilot and the co-pilot had left the cockpit and then, on their return, found the door locked. They reportedly got a fire ax, and with the whole planeload of freaked out passengers watching, started wailing at the door. The co-pilot then turned, and seeing the panic developing, calmly drew the curtain across the aisle, hiding their work from view. The axe bashing continued until they broke the latch and got back to the controls.
10. This sort of argument for debunking Islam in the media as the best way to "defeat" ISIS/ISIL misses the fact that ISIS recruits from the United States make up almost certainly much less than 1% of recruits, so that 99% of the problem, even on its own terms, remains completely unsolved.
9. Even if failure to expose Islam and other religions as ancient myths lacking basis in reality were a significant cause of people joining ISIS, it would not approach the primary cause without which ISIS would not exist, namely U.S. violence in the Middle East. Explaining to would-be ISIS martyrs that there aren't really 72 virgins and isn't really a heaven couldn't possibly do as much to reduce ISIS recruitment as explaining to active and would-be members of the U.S. military that arming and bombing and drone-striking distant lands doesn't actually protect the United States but rather generates so much hostility against it that groups like ISIS produce full-length films imploring the U.S. military to attack it.
8. Of course religion is often a huge part of what motivates members of the U.S. military as well. Congressman Sam Johnson has introduced the "Preserve and Protect God in Military Oaths Act of 2015," to force cadets at the Air Force Academy to say "so help me God" in their oaths. Ted Cruz just announced his campaign for the U.S. presidency at Liberty University, where students learn to drone-murder for Jesus. What is "our best weapon" against that?
7. U.S. recruits to ISIS enamored of Muslim martyrdom could just as well have risked their lives preaching Islam in Alabama. Why choose to risk their lives attacking U.S. troops? The reason is not simply a variety of Islam. Rather it is alienation from the United States. Anwar Al-Awlaki was plenty Muslim when he supported U.S. wars. It was U.S. racism, bigotry, brutality, and militarism that drove him into opposition to the U.S. -- which tragically took the form of advocating violence.
6. Bill Maher pushes racism and bigotry, even concentration camps. The idea that such attitudes are the best response to Islamic hostility and violence is outrageously naive. Were Maher advocating inclusiveness and community at home and abroad, I might take seriously the idea that he was helping.
5. Who is the group to which "Our" is applied in the phrase "our best weapon"? As a human I want an answer to ISIS that works for people in the United States, Europe, Iraq, Syria, and the rest of that region, including Sunnis, and including members of ISIS. The idea that a new war on ISIS is going to repair the damage of the previous wars, which created ISIS, is sadly delusional (but if it leads President Obama to make peace with Iran, I'll take that result gratefully).
4. What is the "weapon" in "our best weapon"? When speech is understood as a weapon it ceases to be useful as speech. Religion is declining in the West and even in the United States, but thinking of those still clinging to it as wartime enemies is exactly the wrong way to advance that process. Thinking of an actual war that has numerous motivations as a struggle over religious beliefs will, likely as not, cause those sympathetic to one side or the other to adopt those beliefs or to hold them more firmly.
3. Highlighting stories of a small number of would-be U.S. recruits is propaganda aimed at instilling fear and suggesting a local presence and an actual threat from what is after all a small and very distant group of people.
2. Such propaganda hides actual motivations and causes. Causes hidden include: past wars on Iraq, sectarian divisions created by those wars, poverty and desperation, regional power grabs, international power grabs, the flow of weapons into the region (largely from the United States), the brutality and cruelty and incompetence of the government of Iraq, the weapons and trainers provided by the United States to the "moderate" groups that cease to be moderate or that surrender to those that are not. Motivations include: rage, hunger, fear, the desire for revenge, the desire to see the United States leave the region, the desire to achieve power or safety or riches, the profit motives of the weapons sellers and oil barons, and the belief that violence can be used to end violence.
1. Hiding the primary problems keeps us from seeing the primary solutions. Each of these steps would work wonders compared to telling U.S. television viewers that Islam isn't true: Ceasing to ship weapons to the region; urging an arms embargo on all parties; negotiating a ceasefire with all regional parties including Iran and Russia; sending in a major contingent of nonviolent peaceworkers and human shields, independent journalists, aid workers, and nonviolent activist trainers; providing reparations and aid on a Marshall Plan scale; negotiating a WMD-free Middle East. If those steps were being taken well, I'd be all for finding time to critique religions.
Making enemies by droning on and on: It’s Guilt that has US Military and Embassy Staff Fleeing Yemen Like Scared Rats
By Dave Lindorff
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about Yemen, or about the Houthi rebels who have taken control of Sana’a, the ancient Arab country’s capital, leading to the hasty evacuation of all US military forces (some 250 Special Forces personnel and the staff of the US embassy) from that country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
I'm just back from a rally in front of the Charlottesville Police Department at which I heard a black UVA student say that black friends were going to think twice about trying to attend UVA after what happened tonight.
Unless more video materializes we won't know exactly what happened, but we know this: a black UVA student needed 10 stitches to the head. The policemen who injured him have made known no injuries to themselves whatsoever. In fact they've charged him with "obstruction of justice without force." However it may be that a young man standing on a sidewalk obstructs justice without using force, one thing seems clear: he didn't use force. He's also not accused of threatening to use force. Rather, he's charged with "profane swearing and/or intoxication," neither of which justifies ANY action by police, much less the sort of brutality that requires 10 stitches and leaves blood on the street.
As an alumnus and a local resident may I humbly request that UVA prosecute the police officers responsible and seek, not a Department of Justice report telling us what we know, but meaningful restorative justice that involves actual understanding and reform by those involved.
I have to confess, I'm getting a little tired of the scandals, UVA. And I don't mean playing a shooter with a broken finger in the ACC tournament. I mean:
Paying your employees so little they need second jobs.
Jumping at a false tale of rape, damaging true accounts among other things damaged.
Hosting forums advocating U.S. war in Syria.
Bringing Blackwater mercenaries, neocon reactionaries, torture defenders, and warmongers of all stripes to speak at the Miller Center.
Sending law students to observe the Guantanamo human experimentation camp, who find nothing to oppose.
Weakening the honor code.
Empowering a corporate board that attempts coups -- a board that meets this coming Tuesday and should be confronted with a plan for serious reform.
I know it wasn't your cops tonight, UVA. Nor was it your cops who assaulted the young woman for buying a case of water. But it's your response that can set things right. We don't need a scapegoat or more cameras or a "study." We need the University to instruct the police that violence will not be tolerated.
The University has an honor code but exists in the midst of a society in which police are being turned into warriors -- and guess who plays the role of the enemy? The rumor is that tonight's victim had a fake ID for entering a bar -- certainly less than honorable, but something millions of people have done for many years without being attacked or brutalized.
There's video of a young woman being attacked by a policeman at the rally tonight protesting the initial crime. Apparently her offense was standing in a street and being unable to move because of the surrounding crowd. This assault is on video and should be prosecuted without delay.
I'm not going to urge you to restore the honorable tradition of your imperialist enslaving rapist founder, UVA. I want your to aspire to something better than you've been. I think you can do it.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
The report released in early March by a panel President Obama appointed to examine serious shortcomings in police practices across America, including the shooting of unarmed people, mostly non-white, listed problems and proposed solutions that are hauntingly similar to those found in a report on police abuses released 47 years ago by another presidential panel.
By Alfredo Lopez
For many people reading this, there are at least two concepts that will offend.
By Dave Lindorff
Potomac Reichstag or ‘Planet of the Apes’?: Hooting American Yahoos on the Benches and Racist Israeli Demagogue on the Podium
By Dave Lindorff
This advertisement does a number of things in 15 seconds that U.S. television has not done before. It presents a moral case against drone murders (the U.S. government's terminology, and strictly accurate). It opposes drone murders as illegal. It shows victims. It provides the name and website of an organization opposing drone murders. And it directly asks drone "pilots" to refuse to continue. It also makes the Nuremberg argument that an illegal order need not (in fact must not) be obeyed.
This is, as far as I know, and as far as its producers know, the first anti-drone-war commercial on U.S. television, as well as -- I believe -- the first content of any sort on U.S. corporate television to do the things listed above.
This ad is airing from February 28 to March 6 on CNN, MSNBC and other networks in the Las Vegas area, just a few miles from Creech Air Force Base, a major drone operating and training facility where a major protest is underway. It will begin airing in other cities soon.
"We produced this spot to make the point as powerfully as possible that drone killing is horrifying, illegal and immoral," said Nick Mottern, coordinator of KnowDrones.com which sponsored the ad.
In case the pilots viewing the ad fail to grasp the sincerety of its producers, they might consider reading this letter:
To: James Cluff, Commander, Creech AFB
Dear Commander Cluff,
It is our intention to reach out to you and appeal to your humanity to stop the drone killing. Your first responsibility is to uphold laws, regardless of your orders. Aerial bombardment of innocent civilians is in violation of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions and the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal. Drones are not making us any safer. More and more young men in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are joining groups that are retaliating against the US for the murder of their loved ones.
I'm sure you can see at the base that there is low morale among the drone pilots, because it is impossible to sustain any level of enthusiasm for intelligence, surveillance and reconaissance. Although the Airforce throws incentive dollars to your pilots they are still resigning in great numbers, and those that stay turn to drugs and alcohol to numb and detach emotionally to perform this dehumanizing work. While sitting in a cockpit, gazing at their screens, don't your pilots see mothers and fathers with children, kids playing soccer? Consider the effect of drone strikes on these mothers and children. Children suffer intense trauma when they witness the death of their parents or are themselves victims of airstrikes. How can you justify fighting a telewar? Do the pilots really reap joy with their joysticks from killing unarmed civilians?
Do you really believe that you're protecting Americans from terrorists? You can see that dropping missiles on suspected terrorists isn't working, isn't reducing the number of terrorist cells, instead it is taking precious resources and diverting them from the very programs that could truly keep Americans safe. Can't you see that you are caught up in a system of domination that maintains that our survival depends on our threat and domination of others? And that it is this system that objectifies and separates you from people of other nations.
Commander Cluff, you have sadly forgotten who you are and are living in denial of your humanity. You can try but never succeed at legitimizing the violence of drone airstrikes. This job has dehumanized you and caused your indifference to the suffering of the people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
It is still possible to stop the killing, to change and take the risk of another way of life.
STOP THE KILLING, END DRONE WARFARE!
Women for Peace
By Alfredo Lopez
When Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma was arrested last week, charged with organizing and leading a coup, the U.S. State Department's spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "The allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the United States is involved in coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false. The United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means."
Republicans and Many Democrats are on the attack: If We’re Going to Defend Social Security We Need to Understand It
By Dave Lindorff
The Republican-dominated Congress, with the help of a cadre of sell-out conservative Democrats in both chambers, are gearing up to attack Social Security again, under the guise of “saving” the program.
By John Grant
We have to address the political grievances terrorists exploit.
-- Barack Obama
Blocking executions was long overdue: Pennsylvania’s New Governor Wolf Issues Surprise Execution Moratorium
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Although Pennsylvania's new Governor Tom Wolf, who last November unseated Republican incumbent Tom Corbett, cited more than 315 million solid reasons to back his surprise order putting an immediate moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, law enforcement organizations in the state still castigated his action, calling it an outrageous assault on a criminal justice system that they contend works well.
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to get a good understanding of how thoroughly corrupted and sold-out our government in Washington is, you need only look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest in a series of trade “deals” that is heading towards passage right now, and that, like its predecessors, NAFTA and CAFTA, as well as the World Trade Organization, will be sucking jobs out of the US for years.
By Dave Lindorff
The Nobel Peace Laureate President Barack Obama, the guy who once campaigned claiming one US war -- the one against Iraq -- was a “bad” one, and the other -- against Afghanistan -- was a “good” one, turns out to be a man who, once anointed commander-in-chief, can’t seem to find a war he doesn’t consider to be a “good” idea.
By John Reuwer, MD, Adjunct Professor, Conflict Resolution, Saint Michael’s College
As a student and teacher of nonviolent action, I was disheartened last week to wake up and read of the box office success of what I thought was yet another shoot-em-up action film, the American Sniper, while the same day noting that a film about my field, Selma, though successful, was not even in the same ballpark with the money. It made me wonder why, so I went to see them.
These movies tell the story of two American heroes, the most lethal sniper in American military history, Christopher Kyle, and the most remembered name in the US civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. We are presented with two very different kinds of heroes, by many accounts both played accurately by their actors.
What makes these men heroes? They both loved their country, and both saw their country in trouble. King saw people of color being shut out from the American dream, and brutalized when they stepped up to claim it. Kyle saw a threat from the Middle East as he heard news of terrorist attacks and watched as the World Trade Centers fell. Both men were willing to risk their lives in dramatic ways, fighting battle after battle over many years to make things right.
Beyond these things, these men were very different in the way they saw what was wrong in the world and how they should make it better.
The movie depiction of Kyle’s formative years relevant to his heroism, besides establishing him as a hunter with good aim, is a lesson from his father about the three kinds of people in the world: the sheep, the wolves, and the sheep dogs whose job it is to protect the sheep. He clearly sees himself as the sheep dog through the movie, and everyone else becomes a sheep or a wolf, mostly devoid of humanity or personality. His world is black and white, and his mission is clear – kill anyone who appears to be threatening his buddies, regardless of age, gender, or the impossible situation in which they find themselves.
In Selma, we don’t get King’s background, but his mission is clear – overturn the obstacles to blacks’ voting in Alabama. The difference in his view of the world is that it is not so black and white. He knows that each human being is capable of good and evil ( a point ironically made in Sniper by one of Kyle’s soldiers who had become disgusted with the war). King’s mission is to change wrong behavior, not the people doing it.
In Kyle’s world, there is a clear line between “us” and “them”, repeatedly referring to “them” as “savages”. “Our” killing is justified and good, “theirs” is bad. Evil can be banished by killing those doing it. In King’s world, “we” and “they” are all children of God, no matter how abhorrent the behavior. Killing is out of the question; his genius is in finding more humane ways of changing evil behavior.
So which hero has the more accurate view of life? That is something that each of us must decide. I look at the aftermath for evidence. Immediately I am saddened that both men were killed in their prime by presumably unstable men with guns. Beyond that, the contrast is stark.
King won the battle for Selma, among other victories that made life for blacks in America more tolerable, and led to 50 years of painfully slow and not even close to complete, but mostly peaceful progress toward equality. I cannot help but think that had he been of Kyle’s mindset, we might have had another civil war, or perhaps even a second American genocide. Instead he called for unity and equality among Americans, and for love to be the nation’s guiding principle. Most importantly, he demonstrated the power of extremely active nonviolence to confront and defeat some of the most entrenched hatred in our history.
On the other hand, the mess in Iraq is worse than ever. Many of the places Kyle and his buddies fought so hard for in the film, are now in the hands of ISIS, despite a trillion dollars spent, hundreds of thousand Iraqis and 4500 American soldiers dead, and our VA system left to care for tens of thousands of maimed and many more psychologically traumatized veterans. Never mind that no one in Iraq had anything to do with the attacks on New York on 9/11.
Unlike Kyle’s apparent black and white picture of good and evil, American Sniper is anything but black and white. It shows the horror of war, the difficulty of deciding who dies in their own country at the hands of foreigners, the physical wounds and PTSD of the combatants, the suffering of their families, and the contradictions between saving and destroying that are inherent to war.
Having seen these two excellent films, I am hopeful that Sniper’s popularity shows not a love of simplistic killing, but Americans’ willingness to wrestle with the tough issues of our time. My wish is that nonviolent action would attract the same attention, so that more folks could better understand the powerful alternatives to the misery of endless war.
Sen. John McCain is ‘low-life scum’: And NPR Is Not Reporting the News on Cuba Much Differently than the Corporate Media
By Dave Lindorff