How U.S. Race Laws Inspired Nazis

James Q. Whitman’s new book is called Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. It is understated and overdocumented, difficult to argue with. No doubt some will try.

In cartoonish U.S. historical understanding, the United States is, was, and ever shall be a force for good, whereas Nazism arose in a distant, isolated land that lacked any connection to other societies. In a cartoonish reversal of that understanding that would make a good strawman for critics of this book, U.S. policies have been identical to Nazism which simply copied them. Obviously this is not the case.

In reality, as we have long known, the U.S. genocide of Native Americans was a source of inspiration in Nazi discussions of expanding to their east, even referring to Ukrainian Jews as “Indians.” Camps for Native Americans helped inspire camps for Jews. Anti-Semites and eugenicists and racists in the U.S. helped inspire those in Germany, and vice versa. U.S. bankers invested in the Nazis. U.S. weapons dealers armed them. Nazis borrowed from U.S. propaganda techniques developed in World War I. Admirers in the U.S. of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy attempted at least one coup against President Franklin Roosevelt. The U.S. refused to admit significant numbers of Jewish refugees or to help evacuate them from Germany. The State Department turned down Anne Frank’s visa. The coast guard chased a ship of Jews away, sending them back to their fate. Et cetera. We have known all of this.

We have known how the U.S. treated African Americans, Japanese Americans, and others at the time of World War II, how it experimented on Guatemalans even during the trials of Nazis for human experimentation, and continued to allow human experimentation in the U.S. for many years. And so forth. The good versus evil cartoon was never real.

What Whitman’s book adds to the complex story is an understanding of U.S. influences on the drafting of Nazi race laws. No, there were no U.S. laws in the 1930s establishing mass murder by poison gas in concentration camps. But neither were the Nazis looking for such laws. Nazis lawyers were looking for models of functioning laws on race, laws that effectively defined race in some way despite the obvious scientific difficulties, laws that restricted immigration, citizenship rights, and inter-racial marriage. In the early 20th century the recognized world leader in such things was the United States.

Whitman quotes from the transcripts of Nazi meetings, internal documents, and published articles and books. There is no doubt of the role that U.S. (state, not just federal) legal models played in the development of the Nuremberg Laws. The 1930s was a time, we should recall, when Jews in Germany and primarily African Americans in the United States were lynched. It was also a time when U.S. immigration laws used national origin as a means of discrimination — something Adolf Hitler praised in Mein Kampf. It was a time of de facto second-class citizenship in the United States for blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Japanese, and others. Thirty U.S. states had systems of laws banning interracial marriage of various sorts — something the Nazis could find nowhere else and studied in comprehensive detail, among other things for the examples of how the races were defined. The U.S. had also shown how to conquer territories of undesirables, such as in the Philippines or Puerto Rico, and incorporate them into an empire but not give first-class citizenship rights to the residents. Up until 1930 a U.S. woman could lose her citizenship if she married a non-citizen Asian man.

The most radical of the Nazis, not the moderates, in their deliberations were the advocates for the U.S. models. But even they believed some of the U.S. systems simply went too far. The “one-drop” rule for defining a colored person was considered too harsh, for example, as opposed to defining a Jew as someone with three or more Jewish grandparents (how those grandparents were defined as Jewish is another matter; it was the willingness to ignore logic and science in all such laws that was most of the attraction). The Nazis also defined as Jewish someone with only two Jewish grandparents who met other criteria. In this broadening the definition of a race to things like behavior and appearance, the U.S. laws were also a model.

One of many U.S. state laws that Nazis examined was this from Maryland:

“All marriages between a white person and a Negro, or between a white person and a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, or between a white person and a member of the Malay race or between a Negro and a member of the Malay race, or between a person of Negro descent to the third generation, inclusive, and a member of the Malay race . . .  [skipping over many variations] . . . are forever prohibited . . . punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for not less than eighteen months nor more than ten years.”

The Nazis of course examined and admired the Jim Crow laws of segregation as well but determined that such a regime would only work against an impoverished oppressed group. German Jews, they reasoned, were too rich and powerful to be segregated. Some of the Nazi lawyers in the 1930s, before Nazi policy had become mass murder, also found the extent of the U.S. segregation laws too extreme. But Nazis admired racist statements from contemporary U.S. pundits and authorities back at least to Thomas Jefferson. Some argued that because segregation was de facto established in the U.S. South despite a Constitution mandating equality, this proved that segregation was a powerful, natural, and inevitable force. In other words, U.S. practice allowed Nazis to more easily think of their own desired practices in the early years of their madness as normal.

In 1935, a week after Hitler had proclaimed the Nuremberg Laws, a group of Nazi lawyers sailed to New York to study U.S. law. There, they were protested by Jews but hosted by the New York City Bar Association.

U.S. laws on miscegenation lasted, of course, until the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling. Vicious and bigoted U.S. policies on immigration and refugees are alive and well today. Whitman examines the U.S. legal tradition, noting much that is to admire in it, but pointing to its political or democratic nature as something that the Nazis found preferable to the inflexibility of an independent judiciary. To this day, the U.S. elects prosecutors, imposes Nazi-like habitual offender (or three-strikes-you’re-out) sentences, uses the death penalty, employs jailhouse snitches’ testimony in exchange for release, locks up more people than anywhere else on earth, and does so in an extremely racist manner. To this day, racism is alive in U.S. politics. What right-wing dictators admire in Donald Trump’s nation is not all new and not all different from what fascists admired 80 or 90 years ago.

It’s worth repeating the obvious: the United States was not and is not Nazi Germany. And that is a very good thing. But what if a Wall Street coup had succeeded? What if the United States had been bombed flat and faced defeat from abroad while demonizing a domestic scapegoat? Who can really say it couldn’t have or still couldn’t happen here?

Whitman suggests that Germans do not write about foreign influence on Nazism so as not to appear to be shifting blame. For similar reasons many Germans refuse to oppose the slaughter of and mistreatment of Palestinians. We can fault such positions as going overboard. But why is it that U.S. writers rarely write about U.S. influence on Nazism? Why, for that matter, do we not learn about U.S. crimes in the way that Germans learn about German crimes? It seems to me that it is U.S. culture that has gone the furthest overboard into a sea of denial and self-idolatry.

 

What Racist Registries Look Like

A new large photo book has just been published called Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II.

People who support creating a Muslim registry should take a look. Here are the victims before, in their small farms and their LA mansions. Here they are being forcibly removed. Here they are incarcerated. Here is what was done to their homes in their absence. Here they are in the camps, prisoners for nothing, and after their release.

To this day, no proof has ever been produced that any Japanese American planned to assist Japan in war against the United States in any way. Nor was there reason to think so at the time. Instead there was open admission of racist and greedy motivations on the part of government officials and white farmers respectively.

These photographs were the U.S. government’s own documentation of its crime, and the hired photographers included Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and others with the talent to capture stories in stills. The accompanying text by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams expands one’s understanding.

In 1936 President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the creation by the Office of Naval Intelligence of a list of Japanese-Americans who would be the “first to be placed in a concentration camp” once a war could be started.

In 1939 FDR ordered the ONI and the FBI to create a larger “custodial detention index” of primarily Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans, renamed and continued as the “security index” by J. Edgar Hoover after Attorney General Francis Biddle ordered it shut down.

The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required all non-citizen adults to register with the government. In early 1941 FDR commissioned a study of West coast Japanese-Americans, which concluded that they were no threat at all. He commissioned another study that reached the same conclusion.

On November 26, 1941, Roosevelt secretly ordered the creation of a list by Henry Field of Japanese and Japanese Americans.

On December 7, 1941, FDR issued a proclamation stripping Japanese in the United States of rights (and the very next day for Germans and Italians).

Within 24 hours of the Pearl Harbor and other Japanese attacks, the FBI broke into enough homes on its list to forcibly remove 1,212 Japanese Americans.

On January 14, 1942, FDR proclaimed that enemy aliens could be put in internment camps. On February 19, 1942, he ordered the internment of citizens and non-citizens alike.

From 1980 to 1983 a Congressional commission studied the history and concluded that Japanese-Americans and Japanese had been locked up in camps, not due to any evidence of a threat, but on the basis of racism and bigotry. The commission recommended $20,000 in reparations to each victim. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation authorizing those reparations payments, and apologizing to the victims. This law acknowledged “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” as the factors that motivated the crime.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed a law appropriating more finds for reparations payments. On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor he issued another formal apology, which included this claim: “The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”

In 2000, a memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., that includes, carved in stone, these words:

“The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group.”
–attributed to Daniel K. Inouye, U.S. Congressman and Senator

In 2001, Congress passed a law making 10 of the camps historical landmarks and stating that “places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency.”

The question is how many more such failures will be allowed. The first section of a mass-crime-against-Muslims photo book could be made now. Perhaps it would help: a photo album of Muslim Americans.

It’s highly encouraging that high-tech companies, some of them generally willing to violate people’s rights on behalf of the U.S. government, are announcing that they will not take part in creating a Muslim registry. This is encouraging for what it is, but also for what it suggests, namely that these companies are not completely sociopathic. They may readily assist in unconstitutional surveillance, political repression, or censorship, but the possibility must now be recognized that they would not do so if they came to view those things as unacceptable in the way that racism is unacceptable.

Combine the resistance to a Muslim registry with the refusal of staffers at the Department of Energy to facilitate a witch hunt of reality-based climate observers, and you’ve got the outlines of a nonviolent revolution that can’t come a moment too soon and could have been beneficial many times over past decades and centuries.

Hurricane Donald and the Storms of Changing Climate

John Feffer argued on Wednesday that Demagogue Donald, whose very existence will lead me to pretend I’m not from the U.S. the next time I’m in Europe, is part of a wider trend that’s already hit Europe hard:

“The ugliness has been percolating in Europe for some time now. It wasn’t just Brexit, Britain’s unexpected rejection of the European Union. It was the election of militant populists throughout Eastern Europe — Viktor Orban in Hungary, Robert Fico in Slovakia, the party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland. It was the electoral surge of the National Front in France and the Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany. It was the backlash against immigrants, social welfare programs, and ‘lazy Mediterraneans’ — but also against bankers and Brussels bureaucrats.”

I think the trend is even wider and deeper if the trend we’re talking about is that of making everything worse, of increasing inequality, of increasing militarism, of destroying the environment, of pushing profit over people. If that’s the trend, the bankers are its vanguard, not its victims, and it has saturated the international establishment almost as thoroughly as it has the rightwing sectarians.

But the trend Feffer seems to have in mind is one of nationalism or ethnic identity or racism in opposition to global humanitarianism. Feffer’s new dystopian novel, Splinterlands, tells a future of shattered nations and international institutions, replaced with ever smaller and more disastrous warring city states. It’s a vision that should disturb us deeply, a vision of what this world could actually become if it gains nothing in wisdom, miraculously survives its nuclear weapons, and plows right ahead into climate chaos and total capitalist consumption.

Feffer’s utopia seems to be a globe unified in peace. But his dystopia is not unlike that of an author like Ian Morris whose utopia is a globe unified by imperial war. The great threat on the horizon for both is balkanization or splintering. Feffer sees this brought on by bigotry, militarism, and environmental destruction. Morris sees the threat as, basically, un-Americanism. But where does barbaric tribalism stop and the promotion of more direct local democracy begin? Is bigger always better and smaller always worse?

Feffer may not think so, because, in fact, a small utopia hidden in one corner of a sinking Titanic of an earth shows up in Splinterlands — something of a Luddite communal organic farm of a sort that essentially exists right now, a creation that cannot save us all or even itself unless expanded to a radically larger scale or duplicated innumerable times. The trick, then, may be to duplicate sustainable and just local living within a global system of nonviolent dispute resolution, cooperation, and fairness.

Feffer says he thought a Trump figure wouldn’t arrive for four more years — though it’s interesting that a big role in his fictionalized future dismantling of the world is played by a hurricane named Donald. My question is whether Trump’s disastrous arrival might not in some ways be put to good use toward human survival. I’m thinking of a particular good use to which Hillary Clinton’s disastrous arrival would not have leant itself. That is to say, can we not now appeal to other nations to recognize that the presence of U.S. military troops on their soil represents their subservience to the odious Donald Trump, a figure hardly to be imagined as the mythical Barack Obama, man of peace?

Can we encourage nonviolent resistance to U.S. militarism without encouraging a dive into a dystopian Splinterlands? Can the world refuse to participate in U.S. wars and U.S. weapons dealing while increasing its participation in cooperative non-military endeavors with the United States and the globe? Can U.S.-led war making, and the war making of other nations, come to be understood as the enemy of good globalism, not as the embodiment of UN humanitarian intervention in the affairs of those deemed less developed?

The alternative to the world figuring out how to resist U.S. wars would seem to be the people of the United States shutting down its war machine from within, without the assistance of the other 96%. But how does that seem to be working out?

Talk Nation Radio: Sonia Kennebeck on the Drone as National Bird

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-sonia-kennebeck-on-the-drone-as-national-bird

Sonia Kennebeck is director and producer of National Bird, an amazing new documentary about drones. Kennebeck is an independent documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist with more than 15 years of directing and producing experience. She has directed eight television documentaries and more than 50 investigative reports. She lives in New York where she runs her own production company (Ten Forward Films) that makes films about international politics and human rights. Filmmaker Magazine recently selected her as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film 2016.” Sonia Kennebeck received a Master’s degree in International Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. and was born in Malacca, Malaysia. National Bird is her first feature-length documentary film.

Learn more: http://nationalbirdfilm.com

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.

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Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

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Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
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Of Veterans and Black Mirror Roaches

If you’re a fan of the Netflix show Black Mirror, go watch the episode called “Men Against Fire” before reading this. It’s the one about war.

In this 60-minute science fiction show, soldiers have been (somehow) programed so that when they look at certain people they see them as freaky monsters with pointed teeth and bizarre faces. These people look frightening and non-human. They are thought of as objects, not as people at all. In reality they are themselves terrified, unarmed, ordinary looking people. And they have a tool with which to protect themselves, a stick with a green light. It doesn’t kill or injure. The stick deprograms a soldier so that when he looks at someone he sees them as they really are without the monstrous distortion.

Of course a deprogramed soldier is of no use to the military. In “Men Against Fire” the military offers a deprogramed soldier two choices. He can re-experience on an endless loop a recent reality in which he murdered helpless human beings, but this time experience it while seeing them as human beings instead of as “roaches” (what the military calls the intended victims made to appear monstrous), or he can be reprogramed and get back to the untroubled work of extermination.

While this story is more fiction than science, some reality breaks into the Netflix drama. During World War I, we’re told accurately, a commander beat troops with a stick to get them to shoot at enemies. Troops we’re also routinely drugged for the same purpose. During World War II, we’re told, also on the basis of actual studies, only 15% to 20% of U.S. troops fired at opposing troops. In other words, 80% to 85% of the Greatest Heroes of the Greatest War Ever were actually a drain on the killing campaign, whereas the conscientious objector featured in the new Mel Gibson movie or, for that matter, the guy who stayed home and grew vegetables contributed more to the effort.

Killing and facing killing are extremely difficult. They require the closest human reality to programing. They require conditioning. They require muscle memory. They require thoughtless reflex. The U.S. military had so mastered this programing by the time of the war on Vietnam that as many as 85% of troops actually fired at enemies — though some of them also fired at their own commanders. The real trouble came when they didn’t remember these acts of murder as the extermination of “roaches” but as the reality of what they were. And veterans remembered their acts of murder on an endless loop with no option to be re-programed out of it. And they killed themselves in greater numbers than the Vietnamese had killed them.

The U.S. military has advanced not an inch in the matter of reconciling its killers to what they have done. Here’s an account just published of what that means for veterans and those they know and love. You can easily find another such account every day online. The top killer of members of the U.S. military is suicide. The top killer of the people who live in “liberated” nations during their liberations is members of the U.S. military. This is not coincidental. Veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (only a disorder from the perspective of those who’d like to suppress healthy inhibitions), moral injury (what a veteran friend calls “a fancy word for guilt and regret”), and neurocognitive disorder/brain injury. Often the same individual suffers all three of these types of harm, and often they are hard to distinguish from each other or to fully diagnose prior to autopsy. But the one that eats your soul, the one solved only by science fiction, is moral injury.

Of course science fiction only works when it overlaps with nonfiction. U.S. troops conditioned to kick in doors in Iraq or Syria and view every person inside as a non-human threat don’t use the term “roaches,” preferring “hadjis” or “camel jockeys” or “terrorists” or “combatants” or “military aged males” or “Muslims.” Removing the killers physically to a drone piloting booth can create psychic “distance” aided by reference to victims as “bugsplat” and other terms in the same vein as “roaches.” But this approach to producing conscience-free killers has been a spectacular failure. Watch the real suffering of the real drone killers in the current movie National Bird. There’s no fiction there, but the very same horror of the roach-killing soldier re-experiencing what he’s done.

Such failures and shortcomings for the military are never complete failures of course. Many kill, and kill ever more willingly. What becomes of them afterward is not the military’s problem. It couldn’t possibly care less. So, awareness of what becomes of those who kill won’t stop the killing. What we need is the real life equivalent of a little stick with a green light on it, a magic tool for deprograming members of every military on earth, every potential recruit, every investor in weapons dealing, every profiteer, every willing tax payer, every apathetic observer, every heartless politician, every thoughtless propagandist. What can we use?

I think the closest equivalents to the stick with the green light are passports and telephones. Give every American a passport automatically and free. Make the right to travel inviolable, including for felons. Make the duty to travel and to speak multiple languages part of every education. And give every family in every nation on the Pentagon’s potential enemies list a phone with a camera and internet access. Ask them to tell us their stories, including the stories of their encounters with the rarest of species: the newly appearing Unarmed American.

Michael Moore Owes Me $4.99

Michael Moore has made some terrific movies in the past, and Where to Invade Next may be the best of them, but I expected Trumpland to be (1) about Trump, (2) funny, (3) honest, (4) at least relatively free of jokes glorifying mass murder. I was wrong on all counts and would like my $4.99 back, Michael.

Moore’s new movie is a film of him doing a stand-up comedy show about how wonderfully awesome Hillary Clinton is — except that he mentions Trump a bit at the beginning and he’s dead serious about Clinton being wonderfully awesome.

This film is a text book illustration of why rational arguments for lesser evilist voting do not work. Lesser evilists become self-delusionists. They identify with their lesser evil candidate and delude themselves into adoring the person. Moore is not pushing the “Elect her and then hold her accountable” stuff. He says we have a responsibility to “support her” and “get behind her,” and that if after two years — yes, TWO YEARS — she hasn’t lived up to a platform he’s fantasized for her, well then, never fear, because he, Michael Moore, will run a joke presidential campaign against her for the next two years (this from a guy who backed restricting the length of election campaigns in one of his better works).

Moore maintains that virtually all criticism of Hillary Clinton is nonsense. What do we think, he asks, that she asks how many millions of dollars you’ve put into the Clinton Foundation and then she agrees to bomb Yemen for you? Bwahahaha! Pretty funny. Except that Saudi Arabia put over $10 million into the Clinton Foundation, and while she was Secretary of State Boeing put in another $900,000, upon which Hillary Clinton reportedly made it her mission to get the planes sold to Saudi Arabia, despite legal restrictions — the planes now dropping U.S.-made bombs on Yemen with U.S. guidance, U.S. refueling mid-air, U.S. protection at the United Nations, and U.S. cover in the form of pop-culture distraction and deception from entertainers like Michael Moore.

Standing before a giant Air Force missile and enormous photos of Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore claims that substantive criticism of Clinton can consist of only two things, which he dismisses in a flash: her vote for a war on Iraq and her coziness with Wall Street. He says nothing more about what that “coziness” consists of, and he claims that she’s more or less apologized and learned her lesson on Iraq.

What? It wasn’t one vote. It was numerous votes to start the war, fund it, and escalate it. It was the lies to get it going and keep it going. It’s all the other wars before and since.

  • She says President Obama was wrong not to launch missile strikes on Syria in 2013.
  • She pushed hard for the overthrow of Qadaffi in 2011.
  • She supported the coup government in Honduras in 2009.
  • She has backed escalation and prolongation of war in Afghanistan.
  • She skillfully promoted the White House justification for the war on Iraq.
  • She does not hesitate to back the use of drones for targeted killing.
  • She has consistently backed the military initiatives of Israel.
  • She was not ashamed to laugh at the killing of Qadaffi.
  • She has not hesitated to warn that she could obliterate Iran.
  • She is eager to antagonize Russia.
  • She helped facilitate a military coup in Ukraine.
  • She has the financial support of the arms makers and many of their foreign customers.
  • She waived restrictions at the State Department on selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar, all states wise enough to donate to the Clinton Foundation.
  • She supported President Bill Clinton’s wars and the power of the president to make war without Congress.
  • She has advocated for arming fighters in Syria and for a “No Fly” zone.
  • She supported a surge in Iraq even before President Bush did.

That’s just her war problem. What about her banking problem, prison problem, fracking problem, corporate trade problem, corporate healthcare problem, climate change problem, labor problem, Social Security problem, etc.?

Moore parts company from substantive critique in order to lament unproven rightwing claims that Hillary Clinton has murdered various people. “I hope she did,” screams Moore. “That’s who I want as Commander in Chief!” Hee hee hee.

Then Moore shamelessly pushes the myth that Hillary tried to create single-payer, or at least “universal” healthcare (whatever that is) in the 1990s. In fact, as I heard Paul Wellstone tell it, single-payer easily won the support of Clinton’s focus group, but she buried it for her corporate pals and produced the phonebook-size monstrosity that was dead on arrival but reborn in another form years later as Obamacare. She killed single-payer then, has not supported it since, and does not propose it now. (Well, she does admit in private that it’s the only thing that works, as her husband essentially blurts out in public.) But Moore claims that because we didn’t create “universal” healthcare in the 1990s we all have the blood of millions on our hands, millions whom Hillary would have saved had we let her.

Moore openly fantasizes: what would it be like if Hillary Clinton is secretly progressive? Remember that Moore and many others did the exact same thing with Obama eight years ago. To prove Clinton’s progressiveness Moore plays an audio clip of her giving a speech at age 22 in which she does not hint at any position on any issue whatsoever.

Mostly, however, Moore informs us that Hillary Clinton is female. He anticipates “that glorious moment when the other gender has a chance to run this world and kick some righteous ass.” Now tell me please, dear world, if your ass is kicked by killers working for a female president will you feel better about it? How do you like Moore’s inclusive comments throughout his performance: “We’re all Americans, right?”

Moore’s fantasy is that Clinton will dash off a giant pile of executive orders, just writing Congress out of the government — executive orders doing things like releasing all nonviolent drug offenders from prison immediately (something the real Hillary Clinton would oppose in every way she could).

But when he runs for president, Moore says, he’ll give everybody free drugs.

I’ll tell you the Clinton ad I’d like to see. She’s standing over a stove holding an egg. “This is your brain,” she says solemnly, cracking it into the pan with a sizzle. “This is your brain on partisanship.”

The U.S. National Bird Is Now a Drone

Officially, of course, the national bird of the United States is that half-a-peace-sign that Philadelphia sports fans like to hold up at opposing teams. But unofficially, the film National Bird has it right: the national bird is a killer drone.

Finally, finally, finally, somebody allowed me to see this movie. And finally somebody made this movie. There have been several drone movies worth seeing, most of them fictional drama, and one very much worth avoiding (Eye in the Sky). But National Bird is raw truth, not entirely unlike what you might fantasize media news reports would be in a magical world in which media outlets gave a damn about human life.

The first half of National Bird is the stories of three participants in the U.S. military’s drone murder program, as told by them. And then, just as you’re starting to think you’ll have to write that old familiar review that praises how well the stories of the victims among the aggressors were told but asks in exasperation whether any of the victims of the actual missiles have any stories, National Bird expands to include just what is so often missing, and even to combine the two narratives in a powerful way.

Heather ————- wanted to protect people, benefit the world, travel, see the world, and use super cool technology. Apparently our society did not explain to her in time what it means to join the military. Now she suffers guilt, anxiety, moral injury, PTSD, sleep disorder, despair, and a sense of responsibility to speak out on behalf of friends, other veterans, who have killed themselves or become too alcoholic to speak for themselves. ——————- helped murder people with missiles from drones, and watched them die, and identified body parts or watched loved ones gather up body parts.

Even while still in the Air Force, ————- was on a suicide watch list and had a psychologist recommend moving her to a different sort of job, but the Air Force refused. She has episodes. She sees things. She hears things. But she’s forbidden to discuss her work with friends or even with a therapist who doesn’t have the proper “security clearance.”

We let Daniel down even more than Heather. He says he actually opposed militarism but was homeless and desperate, so he joined the military. We could have given him a house for much less than we paid him to help murder people at Fort Meade.

Lisa Ling worked on a database filled by drone surveillance that compiled information on 121,000 “targets” in two years. Multiply that by a dozen years. With 90% of victims not among the targets, add up how many people would die in the targeting of the whole list. That’d be over 7 million. But it’s not numbers that have poisoned the souls of these three veterans; it’s children and mothers and brothers and uncles lying in pieces on the ground.

Ling travels to Afghanistan to see the place at ground level and to meet with drone victims. She meets a little boy who lost his leg and his 4-year-old brother and his sister and his father. On February 2, 2010, drone “pilots” at Creech Air Base murdered 23 innocent members of one family.

The filmmakers have voices read the written transcript of what the drone operators said to each other before, during, and after sending in the missiles that did the damage. This is worse than Collateral Murder. The people whose job it is to identify children and others who should not be murdered have identified children among the group of people being targeted. The “pilots” at Creech are eager to reject this information and to get onto killing as many people as they can. Their lust for blood drives the decision process. Only after they’ve killed 23 people do they recognize children among the survivors, and the lack of guns.

We see the bodies brought home to bury. Those injured describe their suffering, physical as well as mental. We see people being fitted with artificial legs. We hear Afghans describe their perception of drones. They imagine, just as many Americans may imagine, and just as viewers of Eye in the Sky would imagine, that drone operators have a clear, high resolution view of everything. In fact, they have a view of fuzzy little blobs on a computer screen that looks like it was created in the 1980s.

—————— says there is no way to distinguish the little “civilian” blobs from little “militant” blobs. When Daniel hears President Obama claim that there is always near certainty that no civilians will be killed, Daniel explains that such knowledge is simply not possible. ————— says she was often on the side of the conversation telling the “pilots” at Creech not to murder innocents, but that they always pushed for permission to kill.

Jesselyn Radack, attorney for whistleblowers, says in the film that the FBI told two whistleblowers that a terrorist group had put them on a kill list. She said that the FBI has also contacted ————–‘s family and warned her that “terrorists” have been searching for her name online, suggesting that she fix this problem by shutting up. (She had written an op-ed in the Guardian).

The FBI also raids Daniel’s house, arriving with 30 to 50 agents, badges, guns, cameras, and search warrants. They take away his papers, electronics, and phone. They tell him he is under investigation for a possible indictment under the Espionage Act. This is the World War I-era law for targeting foreign enemies that President Obama has made a routine of using to target domestic whistleblowers. While Obama has prosecuted more people under this law than did all previous presidents combined, we probably have no way of knowing how many people have been explicitly threatened with the possibility.

While we should be apologizing to, comforting, and aiding these young people rather than denying them the right to speak to anybody and threatening them with decades in prison, Lisa Ling did manage to find some kindness. Victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan told her that they forgave her. As the film ends, she’s planning another trip to Afghanistan. 

NATIONAL BIRD is opening in theaters in the US on November 11. For cities and showtimes, please visit nationalbirdfilm.com.

Renewable Revolutionary Railroad Renaissance

The forthcoming book from creative activist and kayaktivist extraordinaire Bill Moyer and his Backbone Campaign colleagues should remake the United States and limit the oncoming onslaught of climate suffering. It’s called Solutionary Rail: A People Powered Campaign to Electrify America’s Railroads and Open Corridors to a Clean Energy Future.

Here’s the idea. There is huge potential for solar and wind energy in vast open spaces of the United States. There is a need for pathways through which to transmit renewable-produced electricity to where it’s needed in big cities and small towns. Meanwhile, under-used railroad lines crisscross the country. As coal and oil use drop, those lines will be even more under-used, unless we change something. Yet, trains are more efficient than trucks even now, and would be much more so if electrified. So, we should run electricity lines along newly-improved railroad lines, and use some of the electricity to cleanly power a lot more trains.

By electrifying rail, you make rail less expensive as well as cleaner. With improvements to tracks you also make it faster. More freight and passengers find their way to rail. More jobs are produced in renewable energy. People living near trains get a cleaner and quieter environment. Traffic is lessened on highways, reducing accidents, deaths, injuries, and wear and tear on the roads. Electric trains cost less, take less maintenance, and last longer. Regenerative braking can produce still more power.

This is a solution to air pollution, but its benefits just keep piling up. Electric rail is like the hemp of infrastructure. Faster, more efficient trains would take freight from trucks and planes, and people from planes and cars. Electric trains start and stop more quickly and can run more closely together than diesel trains. They run better on grades. They can run much faster than current U.S. trains on existing upgraded tracks. Restoring or adding double tracks provides three to four times the capacity of a single track.

Unless you’re going all the way across the United States, for any shorter distance trip, a fast train from downtown to downtown is going to look mighty appealing when the alternative is a plane ride that involves: traveling to an exurban airport, being treated like a terrorism suspect, waiting hours, flying to an out-of-the-way city to wait additional hours switching planes, never being sure you’ll be on time, buying much more expensive tickets, squeezing into a tiny seat with no chance to walk around, airplane food instead of a dining car, lousy internet, obnoxious announcements, and the knowledge that you’re contributing mightily to the destruction of the earth’s climate.

Solutionary Rail lays out a plan for a just transition to the wind- and solar-topia it envisions, taking into consideration the rights of workers, of those living near the train lines, etc. Also in need of careful study, I think, is the protection of the health of passengers maintaining vicinity to high-voltage power lines. But there are major health concerns created by delaying the move to solutionary rail, and there are ways in which the notion of a just transition might be expanded beyond the vision of this book.

Hundreds of times more U.S. residents are killed each year in traffic accidents involving heavy trucks than are killed by foreign terrorism. Yet the United States uses the threat of foreign terrorism to justify dumping roughly $1 trillion per year into preparations for the wars that generate the threats of terrorism. If electric rail were part of a transition away from treating war as our primary public project and toward treating environmental protection as such, the scope of the vision would be radically enlarged.

Moyer et alia propose starting with a single rail line as a model project to attract more funding. They worry that 500 miles could cost $1.25 billion. They note that an 800-mile high-speed rail project in California is estimated to cost $68 billion. They propose public-private partnerships and incremental advances. Yet they also note that, as with so many other projects on which Europe and Asia now lead the way, the United States was a leader in electric railroads over a century ago. What gave highways the advantage in the United States was primarily a massive public investment in free highways.

Describing 800 miles of high-speed rail in California as “one of the most expensive public works projects in U.S. history,” as Solutionary Rail does, needs to be qualified. I would call it one of the most expensive public works projects that serves some useful purpose and is not dedicated to mass killing in U.S. history. The cost of that dinky little project is pocket change for the Pentagon. If you can run renewable electricity along 500 miles of electric train track for $1.25 billion, then for 10% of U.S. military spending (which has nearly doubled since 2001 during a “war on terrorism” that has increased terrorism) you could do 40,000 miles.

That would be a good start. Factor in the wars over oil we could forego. Factor in the reduced oil consumption by the military. Factor in the greater economic benefits of investing in clean energy versus military spending. The benefits just keep coming.

Solutionary Rail is a master plan. The railroad labor unions are already on board. The blurbs in the front of the book, and Bill McKibben’s introduction claim both that it is a brand new idea and that everybody’s been doing it in Europe for a long time. I think that’s accurate. Most of the trains we enjoy riding in other countries are electric. The idea of having such things in the United States, and of using them as a way to harness unfathomable amounts of wind and sun power, is revolutionary.

When I ride the slow, expensive, internetless train up to the U.S. capital from Virginia, it runs on diesel. Then it sits in Union Station for a long time while they switch it over to electric before continuing north. Bringing electric south as well as north would be a very welcome development, in exchange for which I’d be willing to give up two or three or a couple of thousand military bases.

The Activist as a Young Girl

Clare Hanrahan’s memoir The Half Life of a Free Radical: Growing Up Irish Catholic in Jim Crow Memphis is a remarkable feat: part Jack Kerouac, part Dorothy Day, part Howard Zinn, and a bit of Forest Gump.

First and foremost this is an entertaining and irreverent tale of childhood and adolescence told with great humor, honesty, and empathy. But it’s also told by someone who became a peace and justice and environmentalist activist in later life, someone able to look back on the poverty, racism, consumerism, militarism, sexism, and Catholicism of her youth with passion and perspective — even appreciation for all the good that was mixed in with the bad. Hanrahan writes what in outline form would read like an endless tale of misfortune, and yet leaves you with the thought of how much riotous fun she and her eight siblings and other acquaintances had.

I know Clare, though I learned much more about her from this book, and I wouldn’t risk changing her if I had a time machine and magical powers. But I still found myself wondering, as with most stories of most people in the United States and much of the world, how different Hanrahan’s life would have been in a society with the decency to provide free college and free job training as needed, or a society that integrated civic activism into everyone’s life, or a society in which peace activist careers were marketed on the level of military recruitment ads or even marketed at all so that they weren’t so frequently found so late, or a society in which some of the best people didn’t live below a taxable salary level so as not to pay taxes for wars.

Hanrahan gives us her family genealogy first, and by doing so teaches some U.S. history that echoes through the book and the years. So, she shows us the cruelty of Jim Crow, for example, through personal experiences as a white girl, but illuminates it with an understanding of its origins, and — even more importantly — an awareness of its latest incarnations today. She also contrasts what she knows of the history of Memphis with what she was taught in school in Memphis growing up.

Hanrahan tells her story largely in chronological order, with no lengthy flashbacks, but with numerous quick bits of foreshadowing. For example:

“Brother Tommy gouged his initials, TPH, with a pocket knife on that same bannister long before the American war in Viet Nam maimed his hand, stole his youth, poisoned him with Agent Orange, and eventually took his life and that of his twin brother Danny. The bannister was later knocked down by a speeding car that careened into the porch stopping just short of the front bedroom.”

Tommy returned from Vietnam to a  hospital. “In my naiveté,” Hanrahan writes,

“I rushed to my brother’s bedside to embrace him. I may even have called him ‘my hero’ as I approached, expecting a hug. Lightning fast his good arm flailed out knocking me across the room and onto the floor. ‘Wake up!’ he said. ‘Wake up you stupid bitch.’ I can still hear those harsh words. Dazed and confused, I picked myself up and backed away. This was not the brother I had sent away with a patriotic poem, proudly recited before my senior class.”

Hanrahan’s two veteran brothers suffered in many ways, and failed to fit back into society in many ways, but it was the cruelty toward women that they came back from the war with that their sister Clare eventually found intolerable.

When Hanrahan left Memphis she saw a lot of the country and a bit of the world, including living off the grid on land and water, joining intentional communities and finding her way to a job writing for peace. She also protested for peace and spent six months behind bars. During the course of her ramblings, Hanrahan managed to be present at or part of an extraordinary number of crucial events and developments in recent U.S. history. Hanrahan became editor of Rural Southern Voice for Peace just in time for the first Gulf War and the awful wars that have followed.

Hanrahan found her way back to Memphis on numerous occasions, sometimes for funerals, but also to be part of activist efforts such as the successful campaign to preserve the band shell in Overton Park launched by one of her brothers. Hanrahan intersperses her memories with her dreams and poetry, adding emotional depth to an account of an extraordinary family in a struggling city that I’ve enjoyed visiting but would like to visit again with this book as a guide.