Culture and Society


Talk Nation Radio: Samantha Nutt on the Harm of Weapons Dealing and Investment

Samantha Nutt is an award-winning humanitarian, bestselling author and acclaimed public speaker. A medical doctor and a founder of the renowned international humanitarian organization War Child, Dr. Nutt has worked with children and their families at the frontline of many of the world’s major crises – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone to Darfur, Sudan.

Dr. Nutt is a respected authority for many of North America's leading media outlets. In November 2015, Dr. Nutt spoke at TED Talks Live “War & Peace” at The Town Hall Theater in New York, which aired on PBS on May 30, 2016. Dr. Nutt’s TED Talk can be viewed on

Dr. Nutt’s critically-acclaimed debut book, entitled Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid, was released by McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (a division of Random House) in October 2011 and was a #1 national bestseller in both hardcover and paperback. 

For more information, see or

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.Pacifica stations can also download from Audioport when I'm able to get the audioport website to work, which is not this week.

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Talk Nation Radio: Benjamin Madley on the California Indian Catastrophe

Benjamin Madley is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is also chair of American Indian Studies. He discusses his new book, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.Pacifica stations can usually download from Audioport, but I couldn't get the sample rate to be acceptable to the website this week, as the show was recorded elsewhere.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

and at


The African American History Missing from the Smithsonian

Tag: Culture and Society, Media, Peace and War

The new corporate-funded African-American History museum in Washington, D.C., built on the former site of Camp Democracy and all sorts of protests and festivals, is getting a great deal of purely positive press before its doors have opened.

This press and the museum's own website suggest that the museum covers slavery, Jim Crow, racism, sports, and entertainment, but doesn't step out of the mold set by the Smithsonian when it celebrated the Enola Gay or began letting war profiteers fund and shape the exhibits in the Air and Space Museum or in the American History Museum, which has gone out of its way to glorify war.

The New York Times informs us about the new museum: "Above ground, the museum departs from the chronological narrative to examine African-American achievements in fields like music, art, sports and the military. Visitors can tour these brighter third-floor and fourth-floor themed Culture and Community galleries without venturing into the harsher history sections below."

Get it? War is part of a well-rounded liberal life alongside music and sports, unlike those "harsh" bits of history. The new museum's website promotes "Military" as a category of exhibit item. Click it and you'll find 162 things including smiling portraits of soldiers in uniforms, medals, letters, hats, binoculars, propaganda posters, etc. If you search the site for "Peace" you find one photo of an unidentified man wearing a peace sign necklace and one photo of unidentified men holding up a giant peace sign.

We know that Marin Luther King Jr. is to be found in the new museum, but we don't know if he's the corporate-approved Martin Luther King Jr. who opposed racism but never noticed war. We know that Muhammad Ali shows up in the sports section along with his head-gear and gloves. We don't know if his reasons for refusing the Vietnam War draft are included.

African Americans have been a major part of resistance to war, especially from the Korean War through the nomination of Barack Obama for president. Some of this history is told by Kimberley Phillips who will be speaking in Washington, D.C., as the museum opens, but speaking at a conference at American University called No War 2016.

Does the Smithsonian touch on African-American resistance to wars on Africa or the growth of Africom? Also speaking at No War 2016 will be Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo. Is the story his group tells in the film Crisis in the Congo told by the Smithsonian? Also speaking on a panel on racism and war at No War 2016 will be Bill Fletcher Jr. and Darakshan Raja. Where is their wisdom at the Smithsonian? Where is any history of the ties between a racist foreign policy and domestic racism? What is the relationship between racism and war propaganda? I wouldn't enter the new museum holding your breath until you find that exhibit.

What public service is being offered by a museum that celebrates the Tuskeegee Airmen but thus far has given no public indication that it will explore the significance of the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment? Bombing foreigners who engage in human experimentation makes a better story than just bombing foreigners while engaging in human experimentation. The story can be told with the flaws of segregation, later remedied or in the process of quickly being repaired. There is value in that story. It's not without its merits. But it is fundamentally false and may just get us all killed.


The Great Dismal World Outside the Swamp

Tag: Culture and Society

The Smithsonian magazine recently published an article about the Great Dismal Swamp. I picked up the book that the article is based on, but the article does a better job of telling the story; I don't recommend the book.

The Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina appears to have been a place where African, European, and Native Americans found refuge from slavery, indenture, and genocide -- and not just momentary refuge, but permanent settlement that lasted for centuries with little interaction with the outside world -- but also little written record or record of any kind.

Daniel O. Sayers has been digging into the ground of the Great Dismal Swamp since 2003 and bringing out tiny specks of evidence. His conclusion that "some of the most successful and transformative social radicals of the modern era have gone unnoticed and unrecognized for centuries," is based on one very brief second-hand comment that people worked together and treated each other well in the Swamp, plus a good deal of circular reasoning: Because a small group separated from modern enterprise would likely behave as most small groups do and would lack modern enterprise, or because a group of African-Americans would likely rely on some African traditions, Sayers can conclude that the Swamp dwellers lived more communally than did those on the outside.


Who Killed the People of California? Should Kaepernick Protest His Uniform?

Tag: Civil Rights, Culture and Society, Peace and War

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been given much deserved credit for protesting racism by sitting out the Star Spangled Banner, which not only glorifies war (which everyone, including Kaepernick is totally cool with) but also includes racism in an unsung verse and was written by a racist slave owner whose earlier version had included anti-Muslim bigotry. As long as we're opening our eyes to unpleasant history hiding in plain sight, it's worth asking why the 49ers is not a team name that everyone associates with genocide. Why isn't Kaepernick protesting his uniform?

Of course, protesting one injustice is worthy of infinite thanks, and I don't actually expect anyone who speaks out on one thing to also protest everything else. But I've just read a terrific new book that I suspect unearths a history that most Californians are largely unaware of. The book is An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873, by Benjamin Madley, from Yale University Press. I doubt I've seen a better researched and documented book on anything ever. While the book maintains an engaging chronological account, and while there is plenty of uncertainty in the records used, the 198 pages of appendices listing particular killings, and the 73 pages of notes back up an overwhelming case of genocide by the UN's legal definition.


Snowden: Best Film of the Year

Tag: Art, Culture and Society, Political Ideas

Snowden is the most entertaining, informing, and important film you are likely to see this year.

It's the true story of an awakening. It traces the path of Edward Snowden's career in the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and at various contractors thereof. It also traces the path of Edward Snowden's agonizingly slow awakening to the possibility that the U.S. government might sometimes be wrong, corrupt, or criminal. And of course the film takes us through Snowden's courageous and principled act of whistleblowing.

We see in the film countless colleagues of Snowden's who knew much of what he knew and did not blow the whistle. We see a few help him and others appreciate him. But they themselves do nothing. Snowden is one of the exceptions. Other exceptions who preceded him and show up in the film include William Binney, Ed Loomis, Kirk Wiebe, and Thomas Drake. Most people are not like these men. Most people obey illegal orders without ever making a peep.


Arms Dealing Is Subject of Hollywood Comedy

Tag: Culture and Society

I recall five years ago listening to an arms dealer on NPR respond to a question of what he would do if the war on Afghanistan were actually ended. He said he hoped there could be a big long war in Libya. And he laughed. And the "journalist" laughed. It was arms dealing as comedy.

The new Hollywood movie War Dogs is a comic biopic or a biographical crime war comedy-drama film but always described as some sort of comedy. The image above is of an ad for the film that one hopes is intended as funny, because otherwise it would be even worse than it is. The website it points you to purports to be an introduction to how you, too, can get stinking rich as a war profiteer. Then it shows youtube trailers of the movie, which appears to be all about sex, music, violence, punchlines, and arms dealing.

If you watch the movie itself, it starts out denouncing war as having nothing to do with what the propaganda suggests, as being all about weapons profiteering. But the rest of the movie shows almost nothing of war. Never is a single victim of all the weaponry that is bought and sold shown or even mentioned. Instead, we're given a version of The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street where the particular financial scam is selling weapons rather than repackaging mortgages.

Perhaps the early scenes of the movie touch momentarily on the hypocrisy of profiteering on war while denying even to oneself that one supports the wars. But these scenes also depict a society in which the only way a young person can earn a decent living is by selling weapons. It's a familiar tale from stories of drug dealing as the only route to significant wealth. But here the drug is weaponry, and the addict is the U.S. government.

And it's true that the (based on a true) story depicted in the film ends up in disaster. But we never see the slightest hint at how arming people to commit mass murder might harm anyone, any more than Wall Street crime movies introduce you to people made homeless by Wall Street scams. The moral lesson of War Dogs seems to be: Abide by proper bureaucratic procedures, buy the instruments of death from approved nations, maintain propriety and transparency in death dealing, and you'll get only slightly less stinking rich than these clowns did.

The cultural lesson, especially of the advertising, seems to be that joking about war profiteering is funny, cool, and edgy. Joking about cruelty to non-human animals would not be so acceptable in movie promotions. The industry of mass murder for human beings has become background noise in the era of permawar. All jokes about it will be labeled ironic, but the fact that it is an acceptable topic for joking says something very troubling about our culture.


One City Is Following Through on Protests of Confederate Monuments

Tag: Art, Civil Rights, Culture and Society, Peace and War

Charlottesville is a diverse, enlightened, and progressive college town in Virginia with its public spaces dominated by war memorials, in particular memorials to Confederate soldiers not from Charlottesville who represent a five-year moment in the centuries of this place's history, as viewed by one wealthy white male racist donor at another moment in the 1920s. As the Black Lives Matter movement took off nationally this year, many Charlottesville residents demanded that imposing monuments to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson be removed from their places of prominence.

The city of Charlottesville has set up a commission on race, memorials, and public spaces. I've attended portions of two meetings and am genuinely impressed by the open, civil, and democratic process underway to find solutions and possibly consensus. The process has already been educational for me and for other members of the public and of the commission. Some white residents have mentioned realizing for the first time that African Americans do not see their history in Charlottesville's public memorials.

I am not African American, but I certainly feel the same way. I'm disgusted by the monuments to those who participated in land theft and genocide against Native Americans, by the monument to the war on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that killed some six million people who go unmentioned on the monument, and by the Lee, Jackson, and generic Confederate soldier statues. The possibility of seeing people and movements and causes I actually care about memorialized in public space is exhilarating and not previously hoped for.


The Activist as a Young Girl

Tag: Book and Movie Reviews, Children, Culture and Society

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.

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