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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 December 5, 2009 5:35 PM


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