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December 5, 2009

War, Media & The Plight of Veterans

The West LA Democratic Club sponsored a fundraiser for The Veteran's Project.

I'm a member of the Democratic Party, but the last time I actively participated in the party, beyond voting, was 1988. It was weird to see what a local political party is like in person. The president, Cara Robin, got up and thanked everyone for coming "on behalf of the West LA Democratic Party and our co-sponsors." That's the extent to which co-sponsoring organizations were mentioned. So much for movement building. She then made cursory statement about the need for us to re-elect Barbara Boxer, support Marcy Winograd's bid for Congress, and help get California Majority Rule on the ballot.

Then she sorta introduced the first speaker, Georg-Andreas (Andrew) Pogany, from Give an Hour. He apologized for needing to read his speech from his computer. He lost his original speech, and due to a brain injury that occurred as a result of the war, he has difficulty memorizing things.

After Pogany spoke, Ms. Robin introduced the rest of the panel.

Robert Sheer is a nationally syndicated columnist, co-host of Left, Right, and Center, Editor-in-Chief of Truth Dig, and author of Pornography of Power.

Scott Ritter is the author of Target Iran, Waging Peace, and Iraq Confidential. He is a former senior weapons inspector in Iraq.

Peter Richardsom teaches California Culture at San Francisco State University and recently published a book on Ramparts Magazine, A Bomb in Every Issue.

Mr.Sheer spoke next in a dis-jointed manner that was difficult to follow for people not intimately knowledgeable about his career. Mr. Richardson spoke next and didn't give a complete explanation of Ramparts magazine, since 30% of the audience raised their hands to say they knew what it was. (His short definition: it brought muckraking journalism back to the mainstream. Shortly after it won the prestigious Polk Award, CBS premiered 60 Minutes and the Pentagon Papers were published by the Washington Post.)

After hearing an explanation of why Martin Luther King, Jr came out against the Vietnam war that started with Sheer telling the end of the story and Richardson telling the beginning and middle, I started wondering if I was really at a panel about the experiences of veterans in war or if I was at another panel on the history of the peace & justice movement.

I don't mean to disparage the speakers. Pogany, Sheer, and Richardson had important messages to give. They just weren't all talking about veterans. And ultimately, I was more inspired by Ritter's speech than those of his fellow panelists.

Eventually, Mr. Ritter spoke. His insightful, biting commentary was just what you'd expect from a former military man: sprinkled with profanity, cutting to the heart of the manner with no b.s. I found it interesting that several audience members were offended by the way he spoke, telling him afterward that he didn't make a solid case. Here's the abbreviated version of what he said:

We're here because of veterans. No matter what they look like physically, military will never be the same when they come back from war. The process of preparing our youth for war, changes a person forever.

When you are born into this world, you are not programmed to do what the military programs you to do. We can throw whatever rhetoric we want out there: An Army of One. Navy: A Global Force for Good. The truth is join the military and learn to take human life. You're either directly taking it or supporting people taking life. The military exists for one reason only: to kill human beings. We're taking human beings and de-humanizing them.

Audience member asked a question, stating that "cleaning up the mess we began" is a strong argument for keeping the US military in Afghanistan. How do you propose we clean up the mess in a different way?

First of all, it is the quintessential American issue. We live by the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. It really does work, sort of. What happens when you insert the elephant into the china shop? Shit, buy new china. The ultimate way to resolve it is get the elephant out of the china shop. Afghanistan is a horrifically complicated place. Is Holbrooke going to speak any of the native languages of Afghanistan? If we're going to take a 20 year old kid from Poughkeepsie, NY or Santa Cruz, CA then we should give him the 11 years of education to understand the language and culture at a pH.D level before going there. Otherwise, we shouldn't send him there. We don't have the tool set to fix it. The people best equipped to fix Afghanistan are the Afghan people themselves.

It's time to get the bull out of the china stop. US citizens need to stop seeing the US as the global policeman. We need to embrace internationalism and work through the United Nations to help people create politically viable nation states. We need to begin diplomacy with human beings, not machine guns.

It's not enough to read books and listen to Democracy Now! We must be engaged citizens. We must hold politicians accountable: not just by voting, but by working together to create a critical mass of political will for peace and justice. Join the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and help create the change so desperately needed.

It's time to expose the fallacy of the paradigms espoused by the meritocracy and political elite. It's time to assert that another way is possible. WILPF is the way global citizens of all genders can create non-violent social upheaval.

And yes, we need to support veterans. We need to support veterans of both genders, recognizing not just PTSD, but also the horrific levels of rape faced by our female soldiers. I do not believe in war. I do not believe there is a conflict best solved by violence. But I do believe that veterans deserve mental and physical health services and they deserve re-training. Not another 2 for 1 pizza coupon or vehicle discount, but real health services for them and their families.

Posted by cj at 5:35 PM | Comments (0)

December 3, 2009

US to Escalate Destabilization of Afghanistan


Tuesday night was a turning point in the Obama presidency. All weekend, details of his "plan" leaked out in the political media. So I had plenty of advanced warning that like many foolish presidents before him, Obama thinks he can save the world by occupying it with the US military. So many people are so hopeful for the leadership he supposedly offers. Sure, he's said some pretty rhetoric about nuclear disarmament. But what does any of that talk - or his Nobel Peace Prize mean when the man does not recognize that Human Beings Live in Afghanistan. He talked about the Taliban and al Qaeda, but never about poverty or corruption, war lords or illegitimate presidents. And then he had the gall to end his speech hoping that we all join in unity, like we did after 9-11.

Let's be clear about something: if you have to rely on pandering to the fears created by the horrific terrorist attack on US soil in 2001 to unify your audience, then you've failed to make a persuasive argument.

Yet, he did. And there are so many people who think he's right. I'll admit something: eight years ago, I thought the US military would be useful to bring women out of the shadows of Afghanistan and create space for all people of the country to create a real nation. How foolish I was. And how foolish the US political elite continues to be.

Obama's Afghanistan strategy relies on everything that is wrong with international relations. IR focuses on Power: you must be a war lord, terrorist, state leader, or corporation to be meaningful in a discussion based on "realist" theory. The men who created this paradigm thought so highly of their beliefs that anyone daring to oppose them were derided as "idealists."

I'm tired of these standards of discourse. Poverty, political corruption, and social instability have never been resolved by military occupation. Flooding Afghanistan with English speaking US soldiers and US-paid mercenaries serves one purpose: it props up the corrupt, illegitimate Karzai government and gives carte blanche to warlords wielding power in the name of fighting terror.

I accepted the reality of international relations seven years ago, when I made the decision to stop pursuing a career in the foreign service. The paradigm shifts needed to create real human security are so massive: non-violent social upheaval is simply the only way to make it happen. And I can't help move the world towards needed paradigm shifts from a job serving the US Empire.

Tuesday's speech depressed me. It's depressing not just because the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner fundamentally does not understand how to create global peace. It's depressing because to explain the faults in his reasoning requires a level of sophistication in political discourse that simply does not exist in the US mainstream media. The only place I've heard a bit of common sense on the topic was Josef Joffe, a German publisher/editor on "To The Point" explaining that Europeans, after experiencing two horrific wars on their soil in the 20th century, think diplomacy is the best way to solve international disputes and create nation states.

Remember, Europeans did not find these beliefs by sitting in ivory towers, thinking up ways to rule the world. The true horror of war, the disgusting indiscriminate nature of aerial bombings and painfully slow path to reconstruction taught them the simple truth: War Is Never The Answer. Period. Full Stop.

You may call me an idealist, but I believe I am the true realist. I have seen the core of human nature, I have seen the destruction of war and I say firmly: the US military is not a liberating force. The US fails to live up to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates women's equal participation in conflict resolution. Fighting terrorists through mercenaries, the US military, and corrupt warlords does not create human security for US citizens or Afghans.

The US Government has chosen the path to further destabilization of Afghanistan.

At this crucial moment in world history, will you silently ascent to the senseless deaths of more US soldiers and Afghans? Or will you take a stand for real justice?

Things to do:

  1. Sign the Code Pink petition against Endless Occupation.
  2. Join Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. We work tirelessly to challenge and change the root causes of war and injustice at the local, national, and international level.
  3. Explain your opposition to the hopeless military escalation to your friends, family, and co-workers.
  4. Chastise mainstream media for excluding articulate anti-war voices from their political talk shows. Ask how balanced a panel is when no one on it rejects the paradigm of IR realism.
  5. Find a way to create peace in your own life so that your anger doesn't consume you: depression, though a logical response to this endless war, only poisons you.

Posted by cj at 9:21 PM | Comments (0)