How does war impact people who believe in it?
What does it do to people who live through it?
How does it feel to begin to doubt it?
This play is a flood of sensations streaming out of the madness of militarism half-aware of itself.
"I'm going to create a Sanctuary, a place inside myself first where I tell the truth," says a character toward the end, as if telling the truth to others openly would be a difficult, second step to someday follow telling the truth to oneself.
For how many people is that true?
How many of them might it help to hear someone else tell the truth in a room of someone elses listening and appreciating?
I lead a sheltered life. Apart from visiting Afghanistan once during a war, the closest I come to danger is in sports, and the closest I come to violence is in emailed death threats from war fanatics -- and even those pretty much dried up when the president became a Democrat.
When rats moved into the garage, I trapped them one-by-one and let them go in the woods, even as people claimed the same rats were finding their way back over and over again, like local troops getting guns and training from the U.S. Army over and over again so they could "stand up" and attack each other someday.
I've been arrested for using the First Amendment numerous times but never had anyone try to use the Second Amendment on me. I'm mostly a vegetarian, considering becoming a vegan.
My weakness is seafood. But I don't have it all the time. If I ever eat crabs, I buy them already cooked, already red instead of blue, already still instead of moving, already a product like a sausage patty or a granola bar only different.
Recently I found myself at a friend's house on the bay dropping cages into the water and pulling them out full of crabs. One should accept hospitality. They throw back the females. They throw back the babies. The crabs are plentiful, local, organic, non-processed. If I eat them from a store I'd be a hypocrite not to eat them from the bay.
But these crabs were blue, not red; rapidly moving, not still. We dumped them into a pot and poked them back into it as they tried to crawl out, noisily scraping their claws on the metal. Their intentions were quite clear, and we knowingly frustrated those intentions as we slammed the lid on the pot and set it on the stove for 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes. Long enough for an enhanced interrogation.
And then I ate the crabs.
But the crabs kept crawling around in my head. Surely there are greater evils than hypocrisy, my thoughts said to me.
Peace activist friend Paul Chappell spoke recently to a large group. If you spent the day playing with and getting to know a five-year-old girl, he said, could you take a baseball bat and kill her with it? People shuddered.
Of course you couldn't, he said. But what if you did it from 10 feet away with a gun, with her head turned, with her blindfolded, as part of a firing squad, or from 100 feet, without getting to know her, or from an airplane high above, or with the remote control for a drone, or by ordering someone to order someone to order someone else to do it, and with an understanding that the girl was part of a subhuman race out to destroy the good people of the world?
When Barack Obama reads through his list of men, women, and children on a Tuesday and picks which ones to have killed, he knows he won't be doing the killing. When he killed a 16-year-old boy from Colorado named Abdulrahman and his six cousins and friends who were too close to him at the time, was it Obama's choice or did he pass the buck? Was it John Brennan's choice? Let's suppose that one of them was presented with the argument for bestowing the royal thumbs-down.
Were they shown a photograph? Was a portrait of evil painted? Abdulrahman's father had said seditious things. Perhaps Abdulrahman had once cheated on a biology test. Maybe he hadn't meant to, but he had seen an answer and then not spoken up -- no saint, he.
Had a recording been played of Abdulrahman's voice? Could his killer, could his ultimate killer whose policy trickled down to the pushing of the button on the videogame that beheaded, burned-to-death, lynched, and drew and quartered him all at once -- could that person imagine what his voice would have been like had he been in an oversized metal pot trying to crawl out?
Seven young friends trying to scrape their way out of a pot of steaming water, as Gulliver pokes them back. Their words are articulate, followed by inarticulate screams. Could Obama cook them? And if he couldn't cook them, how can he conscionably murder them with missiles, along with dozens and hundreds and thousands of others killed with all kinds of weaponry at his order and through his proxies and through the recipients of his weaponry given and sold to other air-conditioned killers?
If forced to do the killing in person, which president or secretary or chairman or senator or congress member would do it? And would we want them to take a stand against hypocrisy out of loyalty to their former self, the distance killer? Or would we want them to awake to the evil of their ways and cease and desist forthwith?
The distancing of killing doesn't just make it easier. It also hides important considerations behind gleaming temptations. The crabs are dying. You know it. I know it. We all know that we all know it. The oysters are dying. The crabs are dying. The ecosystem is dying. And the fact that they taste good, combined with some vague fatalism about overpopulation and six-of-one-half-a-dozen-bits-of-bullshit doesn't change what the right thing to do must be.
I am going to eat no more crabs.
The wars are self-defeating, creating enemies, murdering innocents, destroying the environment, eroding civil liberties, savaging self-government, draining resources, mashing away all semblance of morality. And the rush of tasty power that comes from ordering deaths on a check list like a take-out menu doesn't change any of that.
There has to be a last time we tolerate war.
Once again this year, the clear winner, in not just women’s soccer and incarceration, but also in militarism, is the United States of America, sweeping nearly every category of military insanity with seemingly effortless ease. Find all of last year’s and this year’s maps here: bit.ly/mappingmilitarism
In the area of money spent on militarism, there was really no competition:
Troops in Afghanistan have declined, but there remains no question which nation still has the most.
There are more major wars in the world now than a year ago, but only one nation is involved in some significant way in all of them.
When it comes to weapons sales to the rest of the world, the United States really shines. The other nations should probably be competing in a different league.
In nuclear weapons stockpiling, Russia makes an amazing showing, nudging out the U.S. for the lead, just like last year, even as both nations’ stockpiles have slightly diminished, and both nations have announced plans to build more. No other nation even makes it on the chart.
Among nations with other WMDs, such as chemical and biological weapons, the United States is right in there.
But it’s really in the reach of its military presence that the United States makes every other nation look like amateur killers. U.S. troops and weapons are everywhere. Check out the maps.
We’ve added a map showing the nations receiving the greatest number of U.S. and allies’ air strikes, and we’ve updated the count of drone murders in each country being regularly droned.
Further maps display which nations are taking steps to facilitate peace and prosperity. The United States’ ability to fail so stunningly in these categories while excelling in the others is the mark of a true champion war monger.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. Adjust the settings to make your own maps of militarism here.
Obamacare is the name given a law that says you must buy overpriced private health insurance from companies that fund election campaigns. Yes, it's got some lipstick on it, but compared to a civilized healthcare system like other wealthy nations use it's awful. But how awful? Surely not as awful as . . .
Obamatrade, which is the name not given to a potential treaty, a.k.a. the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which says that . . .
You must let foreign corporations overturn national laws.
You must throw millions of people out of work.
You must pay more for medicine.
You must allow banks to gamble on and crash the economy.
You must not know what's in your food.
You must be censored online.
You must destroy family farming.
You must wreck the environment.
You must get paid less.
ALL OF THIS doesn't bother anybody?
The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled in favor of Obamacare, and a considerable number of people apparently lost their minds and their bowels.
Again, I admit that Obamacare is an awful law, but it is actually a law passed by Congress. The President and the one before him have been writing laws with signing statements and secret memos, and nobody seems to have gone insane over it.
That same previous president was installed by the same Supreme Court, which stopped an election in Florida so that his opponent couldn't be shown to have defeated him. Ho hum.
That same Supreme Court has given corporations human rights, made the spending of money an activity protected under the First Amendment as speech, and legalized political bribery. Yawn.
Is it me, or is everything related to Obamacare just a little bit out of whack?
If we were to rename the single largest and most destructive program that the U.S. government wastes money and lives on "Obamawar," would it then start to bother people?
Can we call the subsidizing of fossil fuels "Obamasmoke"? Would the earth win a few more supporters if we did?
Max Blumenthal's latest book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, tells a powerful story powerfully well. I can think of a few other terms that accurately characterize the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza in addition to "war," among them: occupation, murder-spree, and genocide. Each serves a different valuable purpose. Each is correct.
The images people bring to mind with the term "war," universally outdated, are grotesquely outdated in a case like this one. There is no pair of armies on a battlefield. There is no battlefield. There is no aim to conquer, dispossess, or rob. The people of Gaza are already pre-defeated, conquered, imprisoned, and under siege -- permanently overseen by military drones and remote-control machine-guns atop prison-camp walls. In dropping bombs on houses, the Israeli government is not trying to defeat another army on a battlefield, is not trying to gain possession of territory, is not trying to steal resources from a foreign power, and is not trying to hold off a foreign army's attempt to conquer Israel.
Yes, of course, Israel ultimately wants Gaza's land incorporated into Israel, but not with non-Jewish people living on it. (Eighty percent of Gaza's residents are refugees from Israel, families ethnically cleansed in 1947-1948.) Yes, of course, Israel wants the fossil fuels off the Gazan coast. But it already has them. No, the immediate goal of the Israeli war on Gaza last year, like the one two years before, and like the one four years before that, would perfectly fit a name like "The 51 Day Genocide." The purpose was to kill. The end was nothing other than the means.
In 2014, as in 2012 and 2008, Israel again attacked the people of Gaza, using weapons provided for free by the U.S. government, which could be counted on, even standing completely alone, to defend Israel's crimes at the United Nations. Practicing what's been called the Dahiya Doctrine, Israel's policy was one of collective punishment.
The stories in the U.S. media focused on Israelis' fears. The deaths of Gazans were explained as intentional sacrifices by a people with a "culture of martyrdom" who sometimes choose to die because it makes good video footage. After all, Israel was phoning people's houses and giving them 5-minute warnings before blowing them up. The fact that it was also blowing up shelters and hospitals they might flee to was glossed over or explained as somehow involving military targets.
But the Israeli media and internet were full of open advocacy by top Israeli officials of genocide. On August 1, 2014, the Deputy Speaker of Israel's Parliament posted on his Facebook page a plan for the complete elimination of the Gazan people using concentration camps, to take one of dozens of examples.
And the whole thing was kicked off when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lied that three murder victims might be still alive, falsely blamed their kidnapping on Hamas, and began raiding houses and mass-arresting Gazans. Once Israel and the United States had rejected out-of-hand quite reasonable ceasefire demands from Hamas, the war/genocide was on for 51 days -- with great popular support in Israel. Some 2,200 Gazan people were killed, over 10,000 injured, and 100,000 made homeless by a very one-sided war.
Here's a taste of how Blumenthal describes what happened:
"The two Red Crescent volunteers told me they later found a man in Khuza'a with rigor mortis, holding both hands over his head in surrender, his body filled with bullets. Deeper in the town, they discovered an entire family so badly decomposed they had to be shoveled with a bulldozer into a mass grave. In a field on the other side of town, Awad and Alkusofi found a shell-shocked woman at least eighty years of age hiding in a chicken coop. She had taken shelter there for nine days during the siege, living off of nothing but chicken feed and rain water."
While every bombed school and hospital was explained with the assertion that Gazan fighters were hiding among "human shields," we meet Gazan people in Blumenthal's book who were literally held up as shields by Israeli soldiers who shot at Gazans from over their shoulders. People also had new nasty weapons tested on them, including Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME).
The people of Israel generally went along with this war (with many admirable exceptions), and later reelected its architects. Protests against the war were banned, and various lies (including those about the three murder victims that kicked it all off) were exposed in a matter of days or weeks. No matter, the point was to kill people, and people were killed. And no matter in Washington, either, which kept the weapons flowing, quite illegally.
Gaza launched some 4,000 rockets into Israel, to little apparent effect -- rockets whose total combined payload roughly equaled that of just 12 of the missiles Israel was sending into Gaza from its F-16s courtesy of the Land of the Free.
The "international community" gathered in Cairo on October 12, and diplomats "discussed the destruction of Gaza as though it were the result of a natural disaster -- as though the missiles that reduced the strip's border areas to rubble were meteors that descended from outer space." There was no way to discuss damage to both sides in a manner that would make Israel's actions seem legitimate, even by the standards of the "international community," so they discussed the one-sided damage as if nobody were responsible.
Is this where the United States is headed culturally and with its own wars? One reason to hope not is that opposing Israel's wars is one of the few places where U.S. youth are engaged in antiwar activism. Nonetheless, there is reason for concern. The U.S. has followed the Israeli model of domestic policing, of drone use, of assassination, and of propaganda, and the Israeli lead in relation to Iraq, Syria, and Iran. As the U.S. military moves more and more toward treating the world as Israel treats Gaza, the world's future comes more and more into doubt. And there's little to suggest that Americans will oppose actions by their own government simply because they've previously opposed those same actions by the government of Israel.
Iraqis were attempting the nonviolent overthrow of their dictator prior to his violent overthrow by the United States in 2003. When U.S. troops began to ease up on their liberating and democracy-spreading in 2008, and during the Arab Spring of 2011 and the years that followed, nonviolent Iraqi protest movements grew again, working for change, including the overthrow of their new Green Zone dictator. He would eventually step down, but not before imprisoning, torturing, and murdering activists -- with U.S. weapons, of course.
There have been and are Iraqi movements for women's rights, labor rights, to stop dam construction on the Tigris in Turkey, to throw the last U.S. troop out of the country, to free the government from Iranian influence, and to protect Iraqi oil from foreign corporate control. Central to much of the activism, however, has been a movement against the sectarianism that the U.S. occupation brought. Over here in the United States we don't hear much about that. How would it fit with the lie we're told over and over that Shi'a-Sunni fighting has been going on for centuries?
Ali Issa's new book, Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq, collects interviews he's done of key Iraqi activists, and public statements made by Iraqi activist movements, including a letter to the U.S. Occupy Movement and similar messages of global solidarity. The voices are hard to hear because we haven't been hearing them all these years, and because they don't fit with lies we've been told or even with overly simplistic truths we've been told.
Did you know that, at the time of the Occupy Movement in the United States, there was a larger, more active, nonviolent, inclusive, principled, revolutionary movement holding major demonstrations, protests, permanent sit-ins, and general strikes in Iraq -- planning actions on Facebook and by writing times and places on paper currency? Did you know there were sit-ins in front of every U.S. military base demanding that the occupiers leave?
When U.S. troops eventually and temporarily and incompletely departed Iraq, that was due, most Americans imagine, to President Barack Obama's peaceful ways. Other Americans, aware that Obama had long since broken his withdrawal campaign promise, had done everything possible to extend the occupation, had left behind thousands of State Department troops, and would be back in with the military as soon as possible, give credit to Chelsea Manning for having leaked the video and documents that persuaded Iraq to stick with the Bush-Maliki deadline. Few note the efforts of Iraqis on the ground who made the occupation untenable.
The Iraqi media has been shut down when it has covered protests. Journalists in Iraq have been beaten, arrested, or killed. The U.S. media, of course, behaves itself without much prodding.
When an Iraqi threw his shoes at President Bush the Lesser, American liberals giggled but made clear their opposition to shoe-throwing. Yet the fame the act created allowed the shoe-thrower and his brothers to build popular organizations. And future actions included throwing shoes at a U.S. helicopter that was apparently trying to intimidate a demonstration.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with opposing throwing shoes in most contexts. Certainly I do. But knowing that the shoe throwing helped to build what we always claim to want, nonviolent resistance to the empire, adds some perspective.
Iraqi activists have regularly been kidnapped/arrested, tortured, warned, threatened, and released. When Thurgham al-Zaidi, brother of shoe-thrower Muntadhar al-Zaidi, was picked up, tortured, and released, his brother Uday al-Zaidi posted on Facebook: "Thurgham has assured me that he is coming out to the protest this Friday along with his little son Haydar to say to Maliki, 'If you kill the big ones, the little ones are coming after you!'"
Mistreatment of a child? Or proper education, far superior to indoctrination into violence? We shouldn't rush to judgment. I'd guesstimate there have been perhaps 18 million U.S. Congressional hearings lamenting the failure of Iraqis to "step up" and help out in the killing of Iraqis. Among Iraqi activists there seems to have been a great deal of stepping up for a better purpose.
When a nonviolent movement against Assad in Syria still had hope, the "Youth of the Great Iraqi Revolution" wrote to "the Heroic Syrian Revolution" offering support, encouraging nonviolence, and warning against co-option. One has to set aside years of U.S. neocon propaganda for the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, in order to hear this support for what it was.
The letter also urges a "national" agenda. Some of us see nationalism as a root cause of the wars and sanctions and abuse that created the disaster that now exists in Iraq, Libya, and other liberated lands. But here "national" is apparently being used to mean non-divisive, non-sectarian.
We talk about the nations of Iraq and Syria as having been destroyed, just as we talk about various other peoples and states, back to the nations of the Native Americans, having been destroyed. And we're not wrong. But it can't sound right in the ears of living Native Americans. So, for Iraqis, talk of their "nation" also seems to be a way to talk about returning to normalcy or preparing for a future not torn apart by ethnicity and religious sectarianism.
"If not for the occupation," wrote the president of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, in 2011, "the people of Iraq would have ousted Saddam Hussein through the struggles of Tahrir Square. Nevertheless, U.S. troops empower and protect the new Saddamists of the so-called democracy who repress dissent with detainments and torture."
"With us or against us" idiocy doesn't work in observing Iraqi activism. Look at these four points in a statement made in June 2014 by Falah Alwan of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unionists in Iraq:
"We reject U.S. intervention and protest President Obama's inappropriate speech in which he expressed concern over oil and not over people. We also stand firmly against the brazen meddling of Iran.
"We stand against the intervention of Gulf regimes and their funding of armed groups, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
"We reject Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian and reactionary policies.
"We also reject armed terrorist gangs and militias' control of Mosul and other cities. We agree with and support the demands of people in these cities against discrimination and sectarianism."
But, wait, how can you oppose ISIS after you've already opposed U.S. intervention? One is the devil and the other the savior. You must choose . . . if, that is, you live thousands of miles away, own a television, and really -- let's be honest -- can't tell your ass from your elbow. The Iraqis in Issa's book understand the U.S. sanctions, invasion, occupation, and puppet government as having created ISIS. They've clearly had as much help from the U.S. government as they can stand. "I'm from the government and I'm hear to help" is supposed to be a terrifying threat, according to fans of Ronald Reagan who resent anyone trying to give them healthcare or an education. Why they think Iraqis and Libyans hear those U.S. words differently they don't explain -- and don't really have to.
Iraq is a different world, one the U.S. government would have to work to understand if it ever attempted to understand it. The same goes for U.S. activists. In Against All Odds, I read calls for "retaliation" framed as calls for peace and democracy. I read Iraqi protesters wanting to make clear that their protests are not all about oil, but principally about dignity and freedom. It's funny, but I think some of the U.S. war's backers claimed the war wasn't all about oil for the similar reason that it was about global domination, power, "credibility." Nobody wants to be accused of greed or materialism; everyone wants to be standing on principle, whether that principle is human rights or a sociopathic power grab.
But, as Issa's book makes clear, the war and the "surge" and its aftermath have been very much about oil. The "benchmark" of a "hydrocarbon law" in Iraq was Bush's top priority, year after year, and it never passed because of public pressure and because of ethnic divisions. Dividing people, it turns out, may be a better way to kill them off than to steal their oil.
We also read about oil workers taking pride in controlling their own industry, despite its being -- you know -- an industry that is destroying the earth's climate. Of course, we may all die from war before the climate gets us, especially if we fail to even begin to understand the death and misery our wars inflict. I read this line in Against All Odds:
"My brother was one of those taken in by the U.S. occupation."
Yeah, I thought, and my neighbor, and lots of Fox and CNN viewers. Many people fell for the lies.
Then I read the next sentence and began to grasp what "taken in" meant:
"They took him around 2008, and they interrogated him for an entire week, repeating one question over and over: Are you Sunni or Shi'a? . . . And he would say 'I am Iraqi.'"
I'm also struck by the struggles recounted by advocates for women's rights. They see a long multi-generational struggle and great suffering ahead. And yet we hear very little from Washington about the need to help them. When it comes to dropping bombs, women's rights always seems to appear as a great concern. Yet when women are organizing efforts to obtain rights, and to resist the radical removal of their rights by the post-liberation government: nothing but silence.
Andre Vltchek is a writer, reporter, playwright, photographer, and filmmaker. He has reported from around the world. His latest book, which he discusses, is Exposing Lies of the Empire. His website is http://andrevltchek.weebly.com
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The House and Senate have rammed through Fast Track.
Here are the senators who voted for Fast Track: http://1.usa.gov/1GtAdTH
And the House members who voted for Fast Track: http://1.usa.gov/1GAl1TT
We always said this would virtually guarantee passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But it doesn't absolutely guarantee it.
One way to stop it would be to pull out a seldom-used tactic in the United States that is indispensible in other nations. We could threaten consequences at the polling place for TPP supporters.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, I know -- No, not kidding, I actually know -- that in some small percentage of cases this could end up meaning that you've committed to voting against someone who faces in a future election someone else who looks even worse. But fear of that has in fact produced a pattern of, in fact, worse candidates followed by even worse candidates for years now. How, pray tell, do you propose to ever get any better candidates?
The TPP is a disaster that towers over considerations of gentility and lesser-evilism. This is Congress, as our supposed representatives, giving the power to overturn its own laws to corporations. Why would you care whom you elect to a body that no longer has the power to make laws? It's already given up the power to stop wars.
The TPP is NAFTA on steroids, economically and environmentally destructive at home and abroad. Most of it has nothing to do with trade, but is rather about empowering banks and corporations with powers that couldn't be passed separately or transparently because they're too terrible and unpopular.
It's time we take a stand against wrecking the world, even with corrupt politicians who can find someone slightly more corrupt to run against.
It's time we signed this petition:
If you don't oppose and vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I will oppose and vote against you in every future primary and general election in which you are a candidate.