Here's FAIR's excellent report on pro-war bias in the corporate media, and here's Peter Hart describing it well on Democracy Now:
I'd love to see a complete report of all the corporate media coverage for the whole lead-up to Iraq War III: This Time as Farce. Here I am getting a few minutes to oppose war on MSNBC two days after the period FAIR covered, on a program other than the ones FAIR covered:
I suspect there were lots of other exceptions. Did they come late? Were they evenly scattered across the programs so that each program could claim to have been "balanced," or did any actually devote more than a few minutes to peace? Which ones never ever admitted peace into the discussion?
I don't want to lose FAIR's focus on the central point that pro-war pseudo-debate voices were so dominant and repetitive as to drill into people's brains the idea that a mad idea was inevitable common sense. But I think the whole picture could be shown without doing that.
Whether the brighter spots, if any, could or should be encouraged, I don't know. And I have no interest in singling out the worst of the worst in a way that implies the other media outlets are doing all right. But I'd like to see the whole picture and then decide what it means.
Therefore: Send FAIR money to use on longer reports!
It's becoming slightly more common in the Western industrialized world to propose radical cultural change away from consumerism and environmental destruction. It's not hard to find people making the case that in fact nothing else can save us.
But we should have one eye on what our governments and billionaires are doing to educate the rest of the world with the way of thinking that we are beginning to question.
What if the United States were to radically reform and abandon its role as leading destroyer of the environment and leading maker of war in the world, and we were to discover that U.S.- and Western-funded institutions had in the mean time created billions of teenagers around the globe intent on each becoming Bill Gates?
The remarkable film Schooling the World brings this warning. It is not an overly simplistic or dreamy argument. It is not a rejection of the accomplishments of Western medicine or a pitch for adopting polytheistic beliefs. But the film documents that the same practice that "educated" thousands of young Native Americans into second-class U.S. citizens through forced boarding schools is running its course in India and around the world.
Young people are being educated out of kindness and cooperation, and into greed and consumerism, out of connections to family and culture and history, and into a deep sense of inferiority of the sort created in the U.S. by the separate-but-equal educational system of Jim Crow. People whose families lived happily and sustainably are being taken away from their villages to struggle in cities, the majority of them labeled as failures by the schools created to "help" them -- many of them cruelly introduced to a modern invention called poverty.
Eliminated in the process are languages -- referred to in the film as ecosystems of the mind -- and all the wealth of knowledge they contain. Also eliminated: actual ecosystems, those that once included humans, and those simply damaged by heightened consumption rampaging around the globe. Young people are not taught to care for local resources as their parents and grandparents and great grandparents were.
And much of this is done with the best of intentions. Well-meaning Westerners, from philanthropic tourists to World Bank executives, believe that their culture -- that of industrial extraction, competition, and consumption -- is good and inevitable. Therefore they believe it helpful to impose an education in it on everyone on earth, most easily accomplished on young people.
But is a young person's removal from a sustainable healthy life rich in community and tradition, and their arrival in a sweatshop in a crowded slum, as good for them as it looks in the economic statistics that quantify it as an increase in wealth?
And can we see our way out of this trap while screaming hysterically about the glories of "American exceptionalism"? Will we have to lose that stupid arrogance first? And by the time we've done that, will every African nation have its own Fox News?
Maya Schenwar is the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. She discusses the book, what to do about prison, and her own family's experience. She is also the editor-in-chief of Truthout. She mentions this article during the show: http://davidswanson.org/node/4583
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Some news of more resistance in Okinawa from Hiroshi Taka:
"I am writing this email to all the friends who have sent warm messages of solidarity to the people of Okinawa, who fought for a military base-free, peaceful Okinawa in the last weekend through the simultaneous elections at four levels: Governor of Okinawa, Mayor of Naha, three Prefectural Assembly members from Naha, Nago, and Okinawa City, and a member of Naha City assembly. They won the governor election, the mayoral election, the prefectural assembly elections in Naha and Nago. The result demonstrates that the Okinawans are undaunted, that the close-down of the Futemma Base and non-construction of a new base in Nago are an actual consensus of the whole prefecture.
"On Thursday last week, with your messages and Japanese translation, I went to Okinawa, held a press conference, visited the election campaign headquarters of Takeshi Onaga, the then candidate for the governor, and the election campaign headquarters of Ms. Shiroma, the then candidate for the mayor of Naha. I handed over your messages to Takeshi Onaga personally, at the midst of campaign when all those candidates were preparing to make speeches in the center of Naha City.
"Your messages were taken up by a major local paper Okinawa Times on Friday, Nov. 14 issue, and a number of other media. At the campaign headquarters of Onaga, the top leaders of the campaign kindly took time to listen to my presentation of the messages. At the campaign office of Shiroma, all campaign staff there stood up and with big applause, listened to my presentation. And at the speech rally of Onaga, Shiroma, and the other candidates standing against the Bases, most speakers, including Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago, referred to your messages, saying that the whole world was with them.
"Through these visits, I felt first-hand how powerfully and greatly your messages encouraged those who deserved your encouragement.
"Great though their successes are, the struggle for a bases-free Okinawa and peace in the region and the world continues. I hope you will continue to support their struggle, as we living in the mainland Japan will.
Data: (* = elected)
For the Governor
* ONAGA Takeshi (Anti-base) 360,820
NAKAIMA Hirokazu (former Governor) 261,076
For the Mayor of Naha, prefectural capital
* SHIROMA Mikiko (Anti-base) 101,052
YONEDA Kanetosh (supported by LDP-Komeito) 57,768
For the Prefectural Assembly member from Naha
* HIGA Mizuki (Anti-base) 74,427
YAMAKAWA Noriji (LDP) 61,940
For the Prefectural Assembly member from Nago
*GUSHIKEN Toru (Anti-base) 15,374
SIEMATSI Bunshinmatsu Bunshin (LDP) 14,281"
I should note that the Mayor of Okinawa is already anti-base and recently came to Washington, D.C. with that message. I wrote this prior to his visit:
Imagine if China were stationing large numbers of troops in the United States. Imagine that most of them were based in a small rural county in Mississippi. Imagine -- this shouldn't be hard -- that their presence was problematic, that nations they threatened in Latin America resented the United States' hospitality, and that the communities around the bases resented the noise and pollution and drinking and raping of local girls.
Now imagine a proposal by the Chinese government, with support from the federal government in Washington, to build another big new base in that same corner of Mississippi. Imagine the governor of Mississippi supported the base, but just before his reelection pretended to oppose it, and after being reelected went back to supporting it. Imagine that the mayor of the town where the base would be built made opposition to it the entire focus of his reelection campaign and won, with exit polls showing that voters overwhelmingly agreed with him. And imagine that the mayor meant it.
Where would your sympathies lie? Would you want anyone in China to hear what that mayor had to say?
Sometimes in the United States we forget that there are heavily armed employees of our government permanently stationed in most nations on earth. Sometimes when we remember, we imagine that the other nations must appreciate it. We turn away from the public uproar in the Philippines as the U.S. military tries to return troops to those islands from which they were driven by public pressure. We avoid knowing what anti-U.S. terrorists say motivates them, as if by merely knowing what they say we would be approving of their violence. We manage not to know of the heroic nonviolent struggle underway on Jeju Island, South Korea, as residents try to stop the construction of a new base for the U.S. Navy. We live on oblivious to the massive nonviolent resistance of the people of Vicenza, Italy, who for years voted and demonstrated and lobbied and protested a huge new U.S. Army base that has gone right ahead regardless.
Mayor Susumu Inamine of Nago City, Okinawa, (population 61,000) is headed to the United States, where he may have to do a bit of afflicting the comfortable as he tries to comfort the afflicted back home. Okinawa Prefecture has hosted major U.S. military bases for 68 years. Over 73% of the U.S. troop presence in Japan is concentrated in Okinawa, which makes up a mere 0.6% of the Japanese land area. As a result of public protest, one base is being closed -- the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The U.S. government wants a new Marine base in Nago City. The people of Nago City do not.
Inamine was first elected as mayor of Nago City in January 2010 promising to block the new base. He was reelected this past January 19th still promising to block the base. The Japanese government had worked hard to defeat him, but exit polls showed 68% of voters opposing the base, and 27% in favor of it. In February U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy visited Okinawa, where she met with the Governor but declined to meet with the mayor.
That's all right. The Mayor can meet with the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon, and the Congress. He'll be in Washington, D.C. in mid-May, where he hopes to appeal directly to the U.S. government and the U.S. public. He'll speak at an open, public event at Busboys and Poets restaurant at 14th and V Streets at 6:00 p.m. on May 20th.
A great summary of the situation in Okinawa can be found in this statement: "International Scholars, Peace Advocates and Artists Condemn Agreement To Build New U.S. Marine Base in Okinawa." An excerpt:
"Not unlike the 20th century U.S. Civil Rights struggle, Okinawans have non-violently pressed for the end to their military colonization. They tried to stop live-fire military drills that threatened their lives by entering the exercise zone in protest; they formed human chains around military bases to express their opposition; and about a hundred thousand people, one tenth of the population have turned out periodically for massive demonstrations. Octogenarians initiated the campaign to prevent the construction of the Henoko base with a sit-in that has been continuing for years. The prefectural assembly passed resolutions to oppose the Henoko base plan. In January 2013, leaders of all the 41 municipalities of Okinawa signed the petition to the government to remove the newly deployed MV-22 Osprey from Futenma base and to give up the plan to build a replacement base in Okinawa."
Here's an organization working to support the will of the public of Okinawa on this issue.
And here's a video worth watching:
And here's a video of the Mayor's visit to DC:
The United States is a society incapable of producing a major documentary film opposing the institution of war and explicitly advocating its abolition. If it did so, the major corporate media outlets would not sing such a film's praises.
Yet Watchers of the Sky is beloved by the U.S. corporate media because it opposes genocide, not war. I'm not aware of any opponents of war who don't also oppose genocide. In fact, many oppose the two as a single evil without the stark distinction between them. But the anti-genocide academic nonprofit industrial complex has become dominated by leading advocates for war.
As we watch people lament Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur while supporting mass killing in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we seem to be witnessing a sort of extended victors' justice running 70 years from the hypocritical "justice" that followed World War II right through the establishment of the International Criminal Court (for Africans).
Right-wing war supporters oppose "terrorism" which means small-scale killing my government disapproves of. Liberal war supporters oppose "genocide" which means killing my government disapproves of and which is motivated by backward drives like race or religion rather than enlightened projects like control of fossil fuels, profiteering off weapons, or maintaining global hegemony.
Selective outrage over killing within a country has become a common justification for killing across borders (and oceans).
Ben Ferencz, featured in Watchers of the Sky, was recently on my radio show pushing his idea of criminalizing war while refusing to consider recent U.S. wars to fit the category of wars worth criminalizing.
Samantha Power, star of Watchers of the Sky, supports mass killing. I don't think she's pretending to be outraged by genocide any more than Madeline Albright who said killing a half million children had been a good policy is pretending when she claims to be outraged by genocide. I think such people are outraged by evils they have permitted themselves to see as evil, while blinding themselves to horrors they prefer not to recognize.
I recently gave a talk at a college and happened to mention Hillary Clinton's comment about obliterating Iran. A professor interrupted me to state that such a thing never happened. A student pulled up the video of Clinton on several websites on a phone, but the professor still denied it stating that it made no sense. That is to say, it didn't fit into his worldview. I later happened to criticize Israel's treatment of Gaza, and the same professor got up and stormed out of the room. He could only deny what was done to Gaza by avoiding hearing it altogether. I have no doubt that he would have expressed sincere outrage over Rwanda if asked.
The problem with the focus on Yugoslavia and Rwanda is the pretense that there is something worse than, discrete from, and preventable by war. The myths about the origins and outcomes of those horrors play down the role that Western militarism had in creating them while playing up the role it had or could have had in preventing them. War is depicted as an under-utilized tool, while the effects of both war and genocide (such as refugee crises) are blamed entirely on genocide.
The odd thing is that people being slaughtered from the sky are almost always being slaughtered by the U.S. military and its allies. Those who can only see killing when it's done by people resisting U.S. domination can usually keep their eyes comfortably downward.
Having been on the road, I have two brilliant insights to report.
1. No matter what sort of fascist state were ever established in this part of the world, Amtrak would never get the trains to run on time.
2. Respecting people and giving them credit for being smarter than the television depicts them is vastly easier when you stay home.
The well-known line is that people get the governments they deserve. Of course nobody should be abused the way the U.S. and many other governments abuse them, no matter what their intellectual deficiencies. If anything, stupid people should have better, kinder governments. But my common response to that well-known line is to point out the bribery and gerrymandering and limited choices and relentless propaganda. Surely the clown show in Washington is not the people's fault. Some of my best friends are people and they often display signs of intelligence.
But the primary thing the U.S. government does is wage wars, and it wages them against other people who had no say in the matter. Of course I don't want wars waged against Americans either, but the general impression one gets from traveling around and speaking and answering questions at public events in the United States is not so much that people are indifferent to the destruction of the globe as long as they don't miss their favorite television show, as that people are unclear on what destruction means and can't identify a globe when it's placed in a lineup with six watermelons.
War and peace are concepts people have heard of, but ask them which they favor and you'll get blank stares. "Do you support all wars, some wars, or no wars?" I ask to get a sense of the crowd, but a fourth answer takes the majority: "Uhhh, I dunno."
A few people want to end war by having a bunch of anti-war wars, but they all work in the State Department and I haven't been invited to speak there.
A few elderly people believe we simply must have wars, and every last one of them has the identical reason: Pearl Harbor. You can explain to them the stupid vindictive conclusion of World War I, the decades of militarization, of antagonization of Japan (protested for many years by U.S. peace activists), of Wall Street funding the Nazis. You can point out the madness of a rogue nation waging hundreds of disastrous wars all over the world for 70 years and getting people to support this project by finding a single example of a supposedly justifiable war 70 years ago. You can challenge them to find any other major public project that has to go back that far to justify itself. You can quote them the wisdom of peace activists from the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s. They'll simply say that Pearl Harbor justified saving the Jews. You can show them how Pearl Harbor was intentionally provoked, how actions that might have saved the Jews were avoided, how the Jews became a justification for the war only long after it was over, and they'll just grunt at you. You can recount successful nonviolent resistance to the Nazis and the growth and development of nonviolent resistance in the decades since, and they'll drool, scratch their heads, or ask if you're going to vote for Hillary.
A few young people believe we simply must have wars, and every last one of them has the identical reason: ISIS. Because ISIS is something evil, there must be war. "Should we attack ISIS or do nothing?" they all ask.
I imagine I'd laugh if I weren't trembling for our future. Iraq III: The Return of the Decider is becoming the worst parody of a humanitarian war in history. First George W. Obama gave himself a waiver from his own dumb rules against killing unlimited civilians. Then he asked for a special waiver in order to arm lots of really good people who happen to torture some folks and murder some folks and rape some folks and genocide some folks. This after he asked the CIA if arming rebels has ever worked out, and the CIA said "No, but we do it as a matter of principle," and he said "Let's roll!"
Just as nobody supposes World War II the Just and Noble could have arisen without World War I the Futile and Pointless, no serious analysis of ISIS can explain its birth without Iraq II: The Liberation. ISIS is made up of people tortured in U.S. prison camps and thrown out of the Iraqi Army by U.S. occupiers and driven into desperation by the hell the U.S. and its allies created. ISIS brutally murders just like, but on a smaller scale than, the U.S. and its new allies in fighting ISIS. The helpless-people-on-a-mountaintop story remains permanently present outside of time for Americans, even though the U.S. is now killing so many civilians that it needs laws changed (or simply ignored; anyone remember the UN Charter?), even though the story was a gross distortion at the time, and even though the bombing protected the oil contractors in Erbil, not the mountain.
People nod their heads and ask, "So, should we attack ISIS or do nothing?"
You can explain to them that ISIS explicitly said it wanted to be attacked. You can show them how ISIS is growing as a result. You can explain to them how hated the United States is now in that region. You can read them a RAND Corporation report showing that most terrorist organizations are ended through negotiations, virtually none through war. You can fill them in on how 80 percent of the weapons shipped into the Middle-East, not counting U.S. weapons or weapons the U.S. gives to groups like ISIS and its allies, come from the United States. You can describe how the region could be demilitarized rather than further armed. You can discuss diplomatic possibilities, local cease-fires, aid and restitution. You can graphically make clear how a fraction of what's spent on bombing Iraq to fix the disaster created by bombing Iraq could pay for transforming the whole region into a healthier happier place to live with food, water, agriculture, clean energy, etc. You can detail emergency measures that are available, including peaceworkers, aid workers, doctors, journalists -- measures that risk fewer lives than war.
And they'll blink their eyes and ask "So, should we attack ISIS or do nothing?"
Do you recall, you can say, that last year the White House wanted you to support attacking Syria, and wanted to attack the opposite side in that war? And people said no, remember? And now they want to attack the opposite side, while arming it, and this makes sense to you? They have no goal in mind, no plan, no estimated end-date or price-tag or body-count, and this makes sense to you?
Well, they'll say, it's that or do nothing.
But do you recall the year 2006 in which everybody said they'd elected Democrats in order to end the war, and the Democrats said they'd keep it going in order to run against it again in 2008? At that time, in 2006, as the big marches were just ending, having begun with the biggest marches ever on February 15, 2003, if you'd told anyone that in 2014 the war would be over and a new president would propose starting it up again, and nobody would protest, you'd have been laughed at. The America of 2006 would never have stood for this for a minute, at least not if the President were a Republican.
"Oh," they'll say, "I've heard of Republicans. They're the ones who like war, right? Do you think the military is letting women participate enough?"
It happened that while I was touring and talking, NATO claimed for something like the 89th time this year that Russia had invaded Ukraine. If it were ever true, I asked, would anyone believe it? The answer I got: Nobody cares.
Nobody with the easy ability to do something about it cares. The people under the bombs care. The world gets the wars Americans deserve.
The similarities between mass incarceration and mass murder have been haunting me for a while, and I now find myself inspired by Maya Schenwar's excellent new book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. This is one of three books everyone should read right away. The others are The New Jim Crow and Burning Down the House, the former with a focus on racism in incarceration, the latter with a focus on the incarceration of youth. Schenwar's is an overview of incarceration in all its absurd and unfathomable evil -- as well as being a spotlight leading away from this brutal institution.
Locked Down, Locked Out is both an incomparably put together report incorporating statistics and studies with individual quotations and anecdotes, and a personal story of how incarceration has impacted the author's own family and how the author has thought through the complex issues.
Yes, I did recently write an article specifically criticizing the widespread habit of calling everything a "war," and I do still want to see that practice ended -- but not because the linguistic quirk offends me, rather because we make so many things, to one degree or another, actually be like wars. As far as I have seen, no other practice bears remotely as much similarity to war as does prison. How so? Let me count the ways.
1. Both are distinctly American. No other nation spends as much on its military or its prisons, engages in as many wars or locks up as many people.
2. Both are seemingly simple and easy solutions that don't solve anything, but seek to hide it away at a distance. Wars are waged thousands of miles from home. Prisoners are stored out-of-sight hundreds or thousands of miles from home.
3. Both are fundamentally violent and dependent upon the notion that a state "monopoly" on violence prevents violence by others, even while the evidence suggests that it actually encourages violence by others.
4. Both rely on the same process of dehumanizing and demonizing people, either enemies in a war or criminals in a prison. Never mind that most of the people killed by bombs had nothing to do with the squabble used as motivation for the war. Never mind that most of the prisoners had nothing to do with the sort of behavior used to demonize them. Both populations must be labeled as non-human or both institutions collapse.
5. Both are hugely profitable and promoted by the profiteers, who constitute a small clique, the broader society actually being drained economically by both enterprises. Weapons factories and prisons produce jobs, but they produce fewer and lower-paying jobs than other investments, and they do so with less economic benefit and more destructive side-effects.
6. Both are driven by fear. Without the fear-induced irrational urge to lash out at the source of our troubles, we'd be able to think through, calmly and clearly, far superior answers to foreign and domestic relations.
7. Both peculiar institutions are themselves worse than anything they claim to address. War is a leading cause of death, injury, trauma, loss of home, environmental destruction, instability, and lasting cycles of violence. It's not a solution to genocide, but its wellspring and its big brother. U.S. prisons lock up over 2 million, control and monitor some 7 million, and ruin the lives of many millions more in the form of family members impacted. From there the damage spreads and the numbers skyrocket as communities are weakened. No damage that incarcerated people could have done if left alone, much less handled with a more humane system, could rival the damage done by the prison industry itself.
8. Both are default practices despite being demonstrably counter-productive by anybody's measure, including on their own terms. Wars are not won, do not build nations, do not halt cruelty, do not spread democracy, do not benefit humanity, do not protect or expand freedom. Rather, freedoms are consistently stripped away in the name of wars that predictably endanger those in whose name they are waged. The nation waging the most wars generates the most enemies, thus requiring more wars, just as the nation with the most prisoners also has the most recidivists. Almost all prisoners are eventually released, and over 40% of them return to prison. Kids who commit crimes and are left alone are -- as many studies have clearly and uncontroversially documented -- less likely to commit more crimes than kids who are put in juvenile prison.
9. Both are classist and racist enterprises. A poverty draft has replaced ordinary conscription, while wars are waged only on poor nations rich in natural resources and darkish in skin tone. Meanwhile African Americans are, for reasons of racism and accounting for all other factors, far more likely than whites to be reported to the police, charged by the police, charged with higher offenses, sentenced to longer imprisonment, refused parole, and held to be violating probation. The poor are at the mercy of the police and the courts. The wealthy have lawyers.
10. The majority of the casualties, in both cases, are not those directly and most severely harmed. Injuries outnumber deaths in war, refugees outnumber the injured, and traumatized and orphaned children outnumber the refugees. Prisoners' lives are ruined, but so are the greater number of lives from which theirs have been viciously removed. A humane person might imagine some leniency for the convict who has children. On the contrary, the majority of U.S. prisoners have children.
11. Both institutions seem logical until one imagines alternatives. Both seem inevitable and are upheld by well-meaning people who haven't imagined their way around them. Both appear justifiable as defensive measures against inscrutable evil until one thinks through how much of that evil is generated by optional policies and how extremely rare to nonexistent is the sort of evil dominating the thinking behind massive industries designed for a whole different scale of combat.
12. Both war and prisons begin with shock and awe. A SWAT team invades a home to arrest a suspect, leaving an entire family afraid to go to sleep for years afterward. An air force flattens whole sections of a city, leaving huge numbers of people traumatized for life. Another word for these practices is terrorism.
13. Both institutions include extreme measures that are as counterproductive as the whole. Suicidal prisoners put into solitary confinement as punishment for being suicidal are rendered more suicidal, not less. Burning villages or murdering households with gunfire exacerbate the process of making the aggressor more hated, more resented, and less likely to know peace.
14. Both institutions hurt the aggressor. An attacking nation suffers morally, economically, civilly, environmentally; and its soldiers and their families suffer very much as prisoners and prison guards suffer. Even crime victims suffer the lack of apology or restitution or reconciliation that comes with an adversarial justice system that treats the courtroom as a civilized war.
15. Both horrors create alternative realities to which people sometimes long to return. Prisoners unable to find work or support or friendship or family sometimes return to prison on purpose. Soldiers unable to adapt to life back home have been known to choose a return to war despite suffering horrifically from a previous combat experience. The top killer of U.S. soldiers is suicide. Suicide is not uncommon among prisoners who have recently been released. Neither members of the military nor prisoners are provided serious preparation for reintegrating into a society in which everything that has been helping them survive will tend to harm them.
16. Both war and prisons generate vicious cycles. Crime victims are more likely to become criminals. Those imprisoned are more likely to commit crimes. Children effectively orphaned by incarceration are more likely to become criminals and be incarcerated. Nations that have been at war are more likely to be at war again. Solving Libya's problems three years ago by bombing it predictably created violent chaos that even spilled into other nations. Launching wars on Iraq to address the violence created by previous wars on Iraq has become routine.
17. Both institutions are sometimes supported by their victims. An endangered family can prefer incarceration of a violent or drug-addicted loved one to nothing, in the absence of alternatives. Members of the military and their families can believe it is their duty to support wars and proposals for new wars. Prisoners themselves can see prison as preferable to starving under a bridge.
18. Both institutions are disproportionately male in terms of guards and soldiers. But the victims of war are not. And, when families are considered, as Schenwar's book considers them so well, the victims of incarceration are not.
19. Both institutions have buried within them rare stories of success, soldiers who matured and grew wise and heroic, prisoners who reformed and learned their lessons. No doubt the same is true of slavery or the holocaust or teaching math by the method of applying a stick to a child's hands.
20. Both institutions are often partially questioned without the possibility of questioning the whole ever arising. When Maya Schenwar's sister gives birth in prison and then remains in prison, separated from her baby, people ask Schenwar "What's the point? How is Kayla being in prison helping anyone?" But Schenwar thinks to herself: "How isanyone being in prison helping anyone?" Candidate Barack Obama opposed dumb wars, while supporting massive war preparations, eventually finding himself in several wars, all of them dumb, and one of them the very same war (or at least a new war in the very same nation) he had earlier described in those terms.
21. Both institutions churn along with the help of thousands of well-meaning people who try to mitigate the damage but who are incapable of redeeming fundamentally flawed systems. Reforms that strengthen the system as a whole tend not to help, while actions that shrink, limit, or weaken support for the whole machinery of injustice deserve encouragement.
22. Both are 19th century inventions. Some form of war and of slavery may go back 10,000 years, but only in the 19th century did it begin to resemble current war and incarceration. Changes through the 20th and early 21st centuries expanded on the damage without fundamentally altering the thinking involved.
23. Both include state-approved murder (the death penalty and the killing in war) and both include state-sanctioned torture. In fact much of the torture that has made the news in war prisons began in domestic prisons. A current war enemy, ISIS, had its leadership developed in the cauldron of brutal U.S. war prisons. Again, the aggressors, the torturers, and their whole society are not unharmed.
24. Crime victims are used to justify an institution that results in more people being victimized by crime. Victims of warlike abuse by others are used to justify wars likely to harm them and others further.
25. Prisoners and veterans often leave those worlds without the sort of education valued in the other world, the "free world" the prisoners dream of and soldiers fantasize that they are defending. A criminal record is usually a bar to employment. A military record can be an advantage but in other cases is a disadvantage as well in seeking employment.
26. Beyond all the damage done by war and prisons, by far the greatest damage is done through the trade-off in resources. The money invested in war could pay for the elimination of poverty and various diseases worldwide. A war-making nation could make itself loved for far less expense than what it takes to make itself hated. It could hang onto a much smaller, more legitimately defensive military like those of other nations while attempting such an experiment. The money spent on prisons could pay for drug treatment, childcare, education, and restorative justice programs. A nation could go on locking up violent recidivists while attempting such a change.
27. Restorative justice is the essence of the solution to both war and prison. Diplomacy and moderated reconciliation are answers to the common problem of writing an enemy off as unreachable through words.
I might go on, but I imagine you get the idea. Huge numbers of Americans are being made seriously worse citizens, and almost all of them will be back out of prison trying to survive. And, if that doesn't do it for you, consider this: when incarceration is this widespread, there's every possibility that it will someday include you. What if you're falsely accused of a crime? What if somebody puts a link on a website to illegal pornography and you -- or someone using your computer -- clicks it? Or you urinate in public? Or you use marijuana in a state that legalized it, but the feds disagree? Or you blow the whistle on some abuse in some branch of the government that you work for? Or you witness something and don't report it? Or you work so hard that you fall asleep driving your car? An injustice to one is an injustice to all, and injustice on this scale is potentially injustice to every one.
What to do?
Californians just voted on their ballots to reduce prison sentences. Get that on your ballot. For the first time ever, this week, a prosecutor was sent to prison for falsely convicting an innocent person. We need a whole reworking of the rewards and incentives for prosecutors who have long believed that locking people up was the path to success. We need activist resistance to prison expansion, divestment from for-profit prison companies, and educational efforts to begin changing our culture as well as our laws. Locked Down, Locked Out provides a terrific list of organizations to support, including those that can help you become a prisoner's pen-pal. Schenwar explains that there is nothing prisoners need more, as long as they are locked up. Those not receiving mail are seen as the easiest targets for abuse by guards and other prisoners. And our receiving their letters may be the best way for us to learn about the hidden world in our midst.
Leslie Cagan has worked in a wide range peace and social justice movements for almost 50 years: from the Vietnam war to racism at home, from nuclear disarmament to lesbian/gay liberation, from fighting sexism to working against U.S. military intervention. Most recently, Leslie was co-coordinator of the People’s Climate March on Sept. 21, 2014, which brought 400,000 people into the streets of NYC demanding action on the global climate crisis. Leslie helped create and served as the National Coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition that grew to over 1,400 member groups. She discusses her recent activism and what we can do going forward.
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The following is excerpted and adapted from War Is A Lie.
We learn a lot about the real motives for wars when whistleblowers leak the minutes of secret meetings, or when congressional committees publish the records of hearings decades later.War planners write books.They make movies.They face investigations.Eventually the beans tend to get spilled.But I have never ever, not even once, heard of a private meeting in which top war makers discussed the need to keep a war going in order to benefit the soldiers fighting in it.
The reason this is remarkable is that you almost never hear a war planner speak in public about the reasons for keeping a war going without claiming that it must be done for the troops, to support the troops, in order not to let the troops down, or so that those troops already dead will not have died in vain. Of course, if they died in an illegal, immoral, destructive action, or simply a hopeless war that must be lost sooner or later — and the majority of them die from suicide — it’s unclear how piling on more corpses will honor their memories. But this is not about logic.
The idea is that the men and women risking their lives, supposedly on our behalf, should always have our support — even if we view what they’re doing as mass murder. Peace activists, in contrast to war planners, say the very same thing about this in private that they say in public: we want to support those troops by not giving them illegal orders, not coercing them to commit atrocities, not sending them away from their families to risk their lives and bodies and mental well-being.
War makers’ private discussions about whether and why to keep a war going deal with all the motives that tend to be discussed in private.They only touch on the topic of troops when considering how many of them there are or how long their contracts can be extended before they start killing their commanders. In public, it’s a very different story, one often told with smartly uniformed troops positioned as a backdrop. The wars are all about the troops and in fact must be extended for the benefit of the troops. Anything else would offend and disappoint the troops who have devoted themselves to the war.
Our wars employ more contractors and mercenaries now than troops. When mercenaries are killed and their bodies publicly displayed, the U.S. military will gladly destroy a city in retaliation, as in Fallujah, Iraq. But war propagandists never mention the contractors or the mercenaries. It’s always the troops, the ones doing the killing, and the ones drawn from the general population of just plain folks, even though the troops are being paid, just like the mercenaries only less.
WHY ALL THE TROOP TALK?
The purpose of making a war be about the people (or some of the people) fighting it is to maneuver the public into believing that the only way to oppose the war would be to sign on as an enemy of the young men and women fighting in it on our nation’s side. Of course, this makes no sense at all. The war has some purpose or purposes other than indulging (or, more accurately, abusing) the troops. When people oppose a war, they do not do so by taking the position of the opposite side. They oppose the war in its entirety. But illogic never slowed down a war maker. “There will be some nervous Nellies,” said Lyndon Johnson on May 17, 1966, “and some who will become frustrated and bothered and break ranks under the strain. And some will turn on their leaders and on their country and on our fighting men.”[i]
Try to follow the logic: Troops are brave.Troops are the war.Therefore the war is brave.Therefore anyone opposing the war is cowardly and weak, a nervous Nelly. Anyone opposing a war is a bad troop who has turned against his or her Commander in Chief, country, and the other troops — the good troops. Never mind if the war is destroying the country, bankrupting the economy, endangering us all, and eating out the nation’s soul. The war is the country, the whole country has a wartime leader, and the whole country must obey rather than think. After all, this is a war to spread democracy.
On August 31, 2010, President Obama said in an Oval Office speech:
“This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war [on Iraq] from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.”
What can this mean? Never mind that Obama voted repeatedly to fund the war as a senator and insisted on keeping it going as president. Never mind that, in this same speech, he embraced a whole series of lies that had launched and prolonged the war, and then pivoted to use those same lies to support an escalated war in Afghanistan. Let’s suppose that Obama really did “disagree about the war” with Bush. He must have thought the war was bad for our country and our security and the troops. If he’d thought the war was good for those things, he’d have had to agree with Bush. So, at best, Obama is saying that despite his love (never respect or concern; with troops it’s always love) for the troops and so forth, Bush did them and the rest of us wrong unintentionally. The war was the biggest accidental blunder of the century. But no big deal. These things happen.
Because Obama’s speech was about war, he spent a big chunk of it, as is required, praising the troops:
“[O]ur troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future.They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people,” etc.
True humanitarians. And it will no doubt be for their benefit that the War on Afghanistan and other wars drag on in the future, if we don’t put an end to the madness of militarism.
YOU’RE FOR THE WAR OR AGAINST THE TROOPS
The media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noticed in March, 2003, as the War on Iraq began, that media outlets were doing something peculiar to the English language. The Associated Press and other outlets were using “pro-war” and “pro-troops” interchangeably. We were being offered the choices of being pro-troop or anti-war, with the latter apparently necessitating that we also be anti-troop:
“For example, the day after bombing of Baghdad began, the AP ran a story (3/20/03) under the headline Anti-War, Pro-Troops Rallies Take to Streets as War Rages. Another story (3/22/03), about pro- and anti-war activities, was labeled Weekend Brings More Demonstrations — Opposing War, Supporting Troops. The clear implication is that those who call for an end to the invasion of Iraq are opposed to U.S. troops, as in the story Protesters Rally Against War; Others Support Troops (3/24/03).“[ii]
This media practice does not outright call one side of a debate “anti-troop,” but neither does it call one side “pro-war,” despite that side’s clear purpose of promoting war. Just as those defending the right to abortion don’t want to be called pro-abortion, war supporters don’t want to be called pro-war. War is an unavoidable necessity, they think, and a means toward achieving peace; our role in it is to cheer for the troops. But war proponents are not defending their nation’s right to wage war if needed, which would be a better analogy with abortion rights. They’re cheering for a specific war, and that specific war is always a fraudulent and criminal enterprise. Those two facts should disqualify war proponents from hiding behind the label “pro-troops” and using it to slander war opponents, although if they’d like to start using the label “anti-peace” I wouldn’t protest.
One of the most inconvenient pieces of information for campaigns to prolong war to “support the troops” is anything telling us what the troops currently engaged in the war actually think of it. What if we were to “support the troops” by doing what the troops wanted? That’s a very dangerous idea to start floating around. Troops are not supposed to have thoughts. They’re supposed to obey orders. So supporting what they’re doing actually means supporting what the president or the generals have ordered them to do. Taking too much interest in what the troops themselves actually think could be very risky for the future stability of this rhetorical house of cards.
A U.S. pollster was able to poll U.S. troops in Iraq in 2006, and found that 72 percent of those polled wanted the war to be ended in 2006. For those in the Army, 70 percent wanted that 2006 ending date, but in the Marines only 58 percent did. In the reserves and National Guard, however, the numbers were 89 and 82 percent respectively.[iii] Since wars are fought to “support the troops” shouldn’t the war have ended?And shouldn’t the troops, revealed in the poll to be badly misinformed, have been told the available facts about what the war was and was not for?
Of course not.Their role was to obey orders, and if lying to them helped get them to obey orders, then that was best for all of us. We never said we trusted or respected them, only that we loved them. Perhaps it would be more accurate for people to say that they love the fact that it is the troops out there willing to stupidly kill and die for someone else’s greed or power mania, and not the rest of us. Better you than me. Love ya! Ciao!
The funny thing about our love for the troops is how little the troops get out of it. They don’t get their wishes regarding military policy. They don’t even get armor that would protect them in war as long as there are war-profiteering CEOs that need the money more desperately. And they don’t even sign meaningful contracts with the government that have terms the troops can enforce. When a troop’s time in war is done, if the military wants him or her to stay longer, it “stop losses” them and sends them right back into a war, regardless of the terms in the contract. And — this will come as a surprise to anyone who watches congressional debates over war funding — whenever our representatives vote another hundred billion dollars to “fund the troops,” the troops don’t get the money. Usually the money is about a million dollars per troop. If the government actually offered the troops their share of that supportive funding and gave them the option of contributing their shares to the war effort and staying in the fight, if they so chose, do you think the armed forces might experience a wee little reduction in numbers?
JUST SEND MORE OF THEM
The fact is that the last thing war makers care about — albeit the first thing they talk about — is the troops. There’s not a politician alive in the United States who hasn’t uttered the phrase “support the troops.” Some push the idea to the point of requiring the slaughter of more troops, and the use of troops in the slaughter of more non-Americans. When the parents and loved-ones of those troops already dead denounce the war that has harmed them and call for its termination, war supporters accuse them of failing to honor the memory of their dead. If those already dead died for a good cause, then it ought to be more persuasive to simply mention that good cause. Yet, when Cindy Sheehan asked George W. Bush what good cause her son had died for, neither Bush nor anyone else was ever able to provide an answer. Instead, all we heard was the need for more to die because some already had.
Even more frequently we’re told that a war must be continued simply because there are troops currently fighting in it. This sounds sadistic at first. We know that war damages many of its participants horribly. Does it really make sense to continue a war because there are soldiers in the war? Shouldn’t there be some other reason? And yet that’s what happens. Wars are continued when Congress funds them. And even many professed “opponents” of wars in Congress fund them to “support the troops,” thus prolonging what they claim to oppose. In 1968, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, George Mahon (D., Texas) said voting to fund the War on Vietnam was no measure of whether or not one supported the War on Vietnam. Such a vote, he said,
“. . . does not involve a test as to one’s basic views with respect to the war in Vietnam. The question here is that they are there, regardless of our views otherwise.”[iv]
Now, the “they are there, regardless” argument, which seems to never grow stale is an odd one, to say the least, since if the war were not funded the troops would have to be brought home, and then they would not be there. To get out of this logical cul-de-sac, war supporters invent scenarios in which Congress stops funding wars, but the wars continue, only this time without ammunition or other supplies. Or, in another variation, by defunding a war Congress denies the Pentagon the funding to withdraw the troops, and they are simply left behind in whatever little country they’ve been terrorizing.
Nothing resembling these scenarios has happened in the real world. The cost of shipping troops and equipment home or to the nearest imperial outpost is negligible to the Pentagon, which routinely “misplaces” greater sums of cash. But, purely to get around this nonsense, anti-war congress members including Barbara Lee (D., Calif.), during the Wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, began introducing bills to defund the war and to provide new funds purely for the withdrawal. War supporters nonetheless denounced such proposals as . . . guess what? . . . failures to support the troops.
The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee from 2007 through 2010 was David Obey (D., Wisc.). When the mother of a soldier being sent to Iraq for the third time and being denied needed medical care asked him to stop funding the war in 2007 with a “supplemental” spending bill, Congressman Obey screamed at her, saying among other things:
“We’re trying to use the supplemental to end the war, but you can’t end the war by going against the supplemental. It’s time these idiot liberals understand that. There’s a big difference between funding the troops and ending the war. I’m not gonna deny body armor. I’m not gonna deny funding for veterans’ hospitals, defense hospitals, so you can help people with medical problems, that’s what you’re gonna do if you’re going against the bill.”[v]
Congress had funded the War on Iraq for years without providing troops with adequate body armor. But funding for body armor was now in a bill to prolong the war. And funding for veterans’ care, which could have been provided in a separate bill, was packaged into this one. Why? Precisely so that people like Obey could more easily claim that the war funding was for the benefit of the troops. Of course it’s still a transparent reversal of the facts to say that you can’t end the war by ceasing to fund it. And if the troops came home, they wouldn’t need body armor. But Obey had completely internalized the crazy propaganda of war promotion. He seemed to actually believe that the only way to end a war was to pass a bill to fund it but to include in the bill some minor and rhetorical anti-war gestures.
On July 27, 2010, having failed for another three and a half years to end the wars by funding them, Obey brought to the House floor a bill to fund an escalation of the War on Afghanistan, specifically to send 30,000 more troops plus corresponding contractors into that hell. Obey announced that his conscience was telling him to vote No on the bill because it was a bill that would just help recruit people who want to attack Americans. On the other hand, Obey said, it was his duty as committee chair (apparently a higher duty than the one to his conscience) to bring the bill to the floor. Even though it would encourage attacks on Americans? Isn’t that treason?
Obey proceeded to speak against the bill he was bringing to the floor. Knowing it would safely pass, he voted against it. One could imagine, with a few more years of awakening, David Obey reaching the point of actually trying to stop funding a war he “opposes,” except that Obey had already announced his plan to retire at the end of 2010. He ended his career in Congress on that high note of hypocrisy because war propaganda, most of it about troops, has persuaded legislators that they can be “critics” and “opponents” of a war while funding it.
YOU CAN CHECK OUT ANYTIME YOU LIKE, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE
You might imagine from the efforts Congress goes to in avoiding and recklessly rushing through debates on whether to initially launch wars that such decisions are of minor importance, that a war can be easily ended at any point once it has begun. But the logic of continuing wars as long as there are soldiers involved in them means that wars can never be ended, at least not until the Commander in Chief sees fit. This is not brand new, and goes back as many war lies do, at least as far as the first U.S. invasion of the Philippines. The editors of Harpers Weekly opposed that invasion.
“Echoing the president, however, they concluded that once the country was at war, everyone must pull together to support the troops.”[vi]
This truly bizarre idea has penetrated U.S. thinking so deeply, in fact, that even liberal commentators have fantasized that they’ve seen it enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Here’s Ralph Stavins, speaking of the War on Vietnam:
“Once the blood of a single American soldier had been spilled, the President would assume the role of Commander in Chief and would be obliged to discharge his constitutional duty to protect the troops in the field. This obligation made it unlikely that troops would be removed and far more likely that additional troops would be sent over.”[vii]
The trouble with this is not just that the clearest way to protect troops is to bring them home, but also that the president’s constitutional obligation to protect the troops in the field doesn’t exist in the Constitution.
“Supporting the troops” is often expanded from meaning that we need to keep troops in a war longer to meaning that we also need to communicate to them our appreciation for the war, even if we oppose it. This could mean anything from not prosecuting atrocities, pretending the atrocities are extreme exceptions, pretending the war has succeeded or met some of its goals or that it had different goals more easily met, or sending letters and gifts to troops and thanking them for their “service.”
“When the war begins, if the war begins,” said John Kerry (D., Mass.) just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, “I support the troops and I support the United States of America winning as rapidly as possible.When the troops are in the field and fighting — if they’re in the field and fighting — remembering what it’s like to be those troops — I think they need a unified America that is prepared to win.” Kerry’s fellow presidential candidate Howard Dean called Bush’s foreign policy “ghastly” and “appalling” and loudly, if inconsistently, opposed attacking Iraq, but he stressed that if Bush started a war, “Of course I’ll support the troops.”[viii] I’m sure troops would like to believe everyone back home supports what they’re doing, but don’t they have other things to worry about during a war? And wouldn’t some of them like to know that some of us are checking up on whether they’ve been sent to risk their lives for a good reason or not? Wouldn’t they feel more secure in their mission, knowing that a check on recklessly turning them into cannon fodder was alive and active?
In August 2010, I compiled a list of about 100 congressional challengers, from every political party, who swore to me that they would not vote a dime for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.One Independent Green Party candidate in Virginia refused to sign on, pointing out to me that if he did, his Republican opponent would accuse him of not supporting the troops. I pointed out to him that a majority of the voters in his district wanted the war ended and that he could accuse war supporters of subjecting troops to illegal orders and endangering their lives for no good reason, in fact for a bad reason. While this candidate still did not sign on, preferring to represent his opponent rather than the people of his district, he expressed surprise and approval for what I told him, which was apparently new to him.
That’s typical. Atypical are congress members like Alan Grayson (D., Fla.). In 2010 he was perhaps the most vocal opponent of the War on Afghanistan, urging the public to lobby his colleagues to vote against funding bills. This led to predictable attacks from his opponents in the next election — as well as more corporate spending against him than any other candidate. On August 17, 2010, Grayson sent out this Email:
“I’ve been introducing you to my opponents. On Friday, it was Dan Fanelli, the racist. Yesterday, it was Bruce O’Donoghue, the tax cheat. And today, it’s Kurt Kelly, the warmonger.
“In Congress, I am one of the most outspoken opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before I was elected, I spent years prosecuting war profiteers. So I know what I’m talking about.
“Unlike chickenhawk Kurt Kelly. On Fox News (where else?) Kelly said this about me: ‘He put our soldiers, and our men and women in the military in harm’s way, and maybe he wants them to die.’
“Yes, Kurt. I do want them to die: of old age, at home in bed, surrounded by their loved ones, after enjoying many Thanksgiving turkeys between now and then. And you want them to die: in a scorching desert, 8000 miles from home, alone, screaming for help, with a leg blown off and their guts hanging out of their stomachs, bleeding to death.”
Grayson has a point. Those who fail to “support the troops” can’t very well be accused of putting the troops at risk, since “supporting the troops” consists precisely of leaving the troops at risk. But warmongers like to believe that opposing a war is the equivalent of siding with an enemy.
ONLY THE ENEMY OPPOSES A WAR
Imagine an atheist’s position on a debate over whether God is a holy trinity or just a single being. If the atheist opposes the holy trinity position, he’s quickly accused of backing the single being, and vice versa, by those who can’t wrap their minds around the possibility of honestly not wanting to take one side or the other. To those for whom opposition to a war’s existence is incomprehensible, failure to cheer for the red, white, and blue must equate with cheering for some other flag. And to those marketing the war to these people, waving an American flag is enough to nudge them to this conclusion.
In 1990, Chris Wallace of ABC News asked the former commander of the War on Vietnam William Westmoreland the following question:
“It’s become almost a truism by now that you didn’t lose the Vietnam War so much in the jungles there as you did in the streets in the United States. How worried should the president and the Pentagon be now about this new peace movement?”[ix]
With that kind of question, who needs answers? The war has already been sold before you open your mouth.
When Congressmen Jim McDermott (D., Wa.) and David Bonior (D., Mich.) questioned the Iraq war lies in 2002, Washington Post columnist George Will wrote “Saddam Hussein finds American collaborators among senior congressional Democrats.”[x] These war pitchers were equating criticizing a war with fighting a war — on the side of the enemy! Thus ending a war because we the people are against it is the same thing as losing a war to the enemy. Wars can neither be lost nor ended. They must simply be continued indefinitely for the good of the troops.
And when the war makers want to escalate a war, they pitch that idea as a means toward ending the war. But when it comes time to demand the funding and force Congressman Obey to reject his conscience, then the escalation is disguised as a mere continuation. It’s easier to fund a war on behalf of the troops out there in harm’s way if nobody knows that what you’re funding is actually the shipping of another 30,000 troops to join the ones already deployed, in which case rejecting the funding couldn’t conceivably strand any troops without bullets; it would just mean not sending more troops to join them.
At the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, we had a good democratic debate over whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan, a debate in the corporate media between the Commander in Chief and his generals. Congress and the public were largely left out. In 2009 President Obama had already launched a similar escalation with no debate at all. For this second round, once the President had caved in to the generals, one of whom he would later fire for a seemingly much more minor act of insubordination, the media ended the story, conducted no more polls, and considered the escalation done. In fact, the President went ahead and started sending the troops. And congress members who had sworn they opposed the escalation began talking about the need to fund the “troops in the field.” By the time six months had gone by, it was possible to make the vote on the funding a big story without mentioning that it was for an escalation at all.
Just as escalations can be described as support-the-troop continuations, war continuations can be disguised as withdrawals. On May 1, 2003, and August 31, 2010, presidents Bush and Obama declared the War on Iraq, or the “combat mission,” over. In each case, the war went on. But the war became ever more purely about the troops as it shed any pretences of having some purpose other than prolonging its own existence.
SUPPORT THE VETERANS?
No matter how much government officials talk about the troops as their motivation for action, they fail to take action to care for veterans who’ve already been deployed. War veterans are abandoned rather than supported. They need to be treated with respect and to be respectfully told that we disagree with what they did, and they need to be provided healthcare and education. Until we can do that for every living veteran, what business do we have creating more of them? Our goal, in fact, should be to put the Veterans Administration out of operation by ceasing to manufacture veterans.
Until that time, young men and women should be told that war is not a smart career move.Yellow ribbons and speeches won’t pay your bills or make your life fulfilling. War is not a good way to be heroic. Why not serve as a member of an emergency rescue crew, a firefighter, a labor organizer, a nonviolent activist? There are many ways to be heroic and take risks without murdering families. Think of the Iraqi oil workers who blocked privatization and formed a labor union in the face of U.S. attacks in 2003. Picture them ripping off their shirts and saying, “Go ahead and shoot.” They were taking risks for their nation’s independence. Isn’t that heroic?
I understand the desire to support those making sacrifices supposedly for us, and those who already have made the “ultimate sacrifice,” but our alternatives are not cheering for more war or joining the enemy, creating more veterans or abusing the ones we have. There are other options. That we don’t think so is purely the result of our televisions spouting nonsense with great frequency for so long it begins to smell sensible. Comedian Bill Maher (whom I mention without condoning his islamophobia which really took off after this was written) expressed his frustration this way:
“For the longest time, every Republican election has been based on some sentimental bullshit: the flag, or the flag pin, or the Pledge, or the, ‘It’s morning in America.’ Bill Clinton got a blowjob in the Oval Office. And the Dixie Chicks insulted President Bush on foreign soil. And when that happens, it hurts the feelings of our troops. And then Tinkerbell’s light goes out and she dies. Yes, yes, the love of our troops, the ultimate in fake patriotism. Are you kidding? The troops, we pay them like shit, we fuck them and trick them on deployment, we nickel and dime them on medical care when they get home, not to mention the stupid wars that we send them to. Yeah, we love the troops the way Michael Vick loves dogs. You know how I would feel supported if I was a troop overseas? If the people back home were clamoring to get me out of these pointless errands. That’s how I would feel supported. But, you know, don’t hold your breath on that one fellas because, you know, when America invades a country, we love you long time. Seriously, we never leave, we leave like Irish relatives: not at all.”
If we all purged ourselves, as Maher has, of the “support-the-troops” propaganda, we wouldn’t have to say “Support the Troops, Bring Them Home.” We could skip half of that and jump ahead to “Bring them home and prosecute the criminals who sent them.” It should go without saying that we wish the troops well. That’s one of the main reasons we don’t want them pointlessly killing and dying!
But we do not actually approve of what they are doing. Our praise is reserved for those soldiers who refuse illegal orders and nonviolently resist. And we approve of the work being done courageously and with great dedication by Americans in hundreds of professions other than war. We ought to say we support them once in a while. We all fail to do that, and fortunately we don’t accuse each other of wanting all those people dead, the way we do if someone fails to say “I support the troops.”
SUPPORT THE MASS MURDER?
Blogger John Caruso collected a list of news items reporting things he especially did not support, things that get brushed aside as too inconvenient when we delude ourselves into believing that wars are fought on behalf of the soldiers fighting them. Here’s part of the list:[xi]
From the New York Times :
“We had a great day,” Sergeant Schrumpf said. “We killed a lot of people.”
But more than once, Sergeant Schrumpf said, he faced a different choice: one Iraqi soldier standing among two or three civilians. He recalled one such incident, in which he and other men in his unit opened fire. He recalled watching one of the women standing near the Iraqi soldier go down.
“I’m sorry,” the sergeant said. “But the chick was in the way.”
“Raghead, raghead, can’t you see? This old war ain’t — to me,” sang Lance Cpl. Christopher Akins, 21, of Louisville, Ky., sweat running down his face in rivulets as he dug a fighting trench one recent afternoon under a blazing sun.
Asked whom he considered a raghead, Akins said: “Anybody who actively opposes the United States of America’s way . . . If a little kid actively opposes my way of life, I’d call him a raghead, too.”
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
The 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps said he found the soldier after dark inside a nearby home with the grenade launcher next to him. Covarrubias said he ordered the man to stop and turn around.
“I went behind him and shot him in the back of the head,” Covarrubias said. “Twice.”
Did he feel any remorse for executing a man who’d surrendered to him? No; in fact, he’d taken the man’s ID card off of his dead body to keep as a souvenir.
From the Los Angeles Times:
“I enjoy killing Iraqis,” says Staff Sgt. William Deaton, 30, who killed a hostile fighter the night before. Deaton has lost a good friend in Iraq. “I just feel rage, hate when I’m out there. I feel like I carry it all the time. We talk about it. We all feel the same way.”
[i]Solomon, War Made Easy, p. 155.
[ii]Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “Using ‘Pro-Troops’ To Mean ‘Pro-War’ Is Anti-Journalistic,” by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), March 26, 2003,Accessed October 7, 2010, http://www.fair.org/activism/pro-troops.html.
[iii]Zogby, “Press Release:U.S. Troops in Iraq.”
[iv]Stavins et alia, Washington Plans an Aggressive War, p. 273.
[v]David Swanson, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2009), p. 158.
[vi]Brewer, Why America Fights.
[vii]Stavins et alia, Washington Plans an Aggressive War, p. 42.
[ix]Solomon, War Made Easy, p. 157.
[xi]John Caruso, “Support the Troops?” A Tiny Revolution, April 7, 2010.AccessedOctober 7, 2010, http://www.tinyrevolution.com/mt/archives/003243.html.
A case can be made that democracy worked in this month's U.S. midterm elections, while representative democracy failed miserably.
On ballot initiatives all across the country, people in so-called red and blue states voted for raising the minimum wage, banning fracking, funding schools, taxing millionaires and billionaires, legalizing marijuana, reducing prison sentences, providing paid sick leave, and imposing background checks on gun purchases.
Want smaller government? I think we've found a worthy replacement. Let people govern themselves. They do a fine, fine job of it.
Imagine if candidates or a political party pushed for restoring a decent value to the minimum wage, banning fracking, and the whole rest of that agenda. I bet some people would vote for such candidates. And I mean even with the gerrymandering, the suppression and intimidation, the unverifiable voting machines, the disgusting negative advertising, the even more disgusting media coverage, and the legalized bribery system in all its glory, you would still see more people turn out to vote and to vote for progressive candidates -- if there were progressive candidates on the ballot and in the media in the same way that the current crop of Democrats and Republicans are.
But the candidates would have to be believable. People would have to get the sense that there were things the candidates cared about and would work their hardest for, that they couldn't be bought off with dollars or favors or rewards from a party leadership. The fact is that busy overworked and under-informed voters and potential voters primarily want to reject the current broken system. With nobody proposing to make the system better, those proposing to make it even worse attract support away from those proposing to muddle along more or less in the same dreary mess with a grumbled complaint or two. And, yes, every single candidate looked unworthy of voting for to the majority of potential voters. They stayed home.
Early indications are that neither the new Republican Congress nor the Democratic minority (nor President Obama) will be pushing for national legislation on the model of what voters just passed in ballot initiatives.
On the contrary, the Republican Congress expects to find a willing partner in President Obama for a conservative agenda that only a minority of Americans support. The White House and Republicans are talking up the NAFTA-on-steroids Trans-Pacific Partnership that nobody campaigned on.
Obama apparently will delay until January a vote on the war he's already intensifying in Iraq and Syria. His FCC is pushing for the elimination of internet neutrality. (Obama himself just spoke again in support of net neutrality, but whether actions follow words is always a big question.) The new Congress will be pushing for the tar sands pipeline that Obama has for years refused to stop.
Obama's surveillance state will have a willing partner, as will his agenda of burying information on the crimes of his predecessor.
And if you expect Congressional Democrats to push back strongly in support of middle class and working class Americans, you see something in them that many voters don't.
After the last midterms, the Occupy movement and related resistance movements began germinating. What sort of independent popular pressure will be brought to bear now? One place to start is by saying no to Republibama government.