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Sunday, 8 October 2006
Divine and demonic missions
Topic: antiwar
Recently, on one of the finest of those summery autumn evenings we’ve been having, I attended a wedding at a winery high above Seneca Lake. The scene was magical: under a slate blue sky, we faced the setting sun, and the receding light kept the nearby vineyards crisply in focus as the lake surface darkened into invisibility. All this was stiff aesthetic competition for the ceremony itself – but the wedding party, not to mention a violin duo off to the side, made a pretty picture, too.
 
But into every postcard image must come a dissonance. And in this case, it was a note of tragedy: a young man who’d been close to the bride and groom had recently been killed in Iraq, and his absence was sorely felt at such a hope-filled event. The pastor who was officiating summed up everyone’s feelings, or tried to. I found my mind wandering among the ironies and contradictions, a kind of half-sleep of the moral consciousness, though I snapped fully awake when I heard the pastor say what most in his profession trot out at such moments – stuff about sacrifice for god and country and the good of people everywhere. I think a let out an audible sigh at that instant. And believe me, it was only a hundredth of what I wanted to express. Yes, the young man was sacrificed – but only for greed and the lust for power and revenge. I mused that the pastoral claptrap might have worked in a church basement, but out in the glories of nature such as the Finger Lakes can illuminate, it seemed like an especially atrocious lie.
 
So today I picked up the Democrat and Chronicle, and what did I see? An article about a local man, 28 years old, who was killed in (and by) Bush’s war on terrorism. And what language attached to this fresh tragedy from Iraq? Reverend so-and-so contended that for the deceased, "the challenge of Jesus was a call to arms." I’m actually grateful for this holy perspective, since it helpfully compresses the big lie into bumper-sticker dimensions. What was the reverend gentleman thinking? Sure, he had to find words to soothe, not confront, the mourners. And maybe he was masking his feelings and opinions, calibrating his words in the knowledge that the young man actually misunderstood his own mission in life (and death) - that the dead man had taken Jesus’s challenge exactly the wrong way and certainly to the wrong place.
 
But really, I don’t think the nuances played much of a role here. I think the reverend, in a sin of omission or commission, knowingly perverted the message. He played along with the trend – individual and national – to turn the supreme pacifist into a righteous warrior. And to exalt the nation, its violent ways, and its demonic mission.
 
I’m glad to be an ex-Christian, but if there’s one thing from my religious upbringing that I hold dear, it’s Jesus’s injunction to love your neighbor, including your "enemy." Are such things said at funeral services - or even weddings - these days?

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:00 EDT
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Monday, 2 October 2006
More troops into the valley of death?
Topic: antiwar

Why do people spend so much time listening to The Brass? I'm not talking about some new ensemble of horns and trombones; I mean the parade of trumpeting generals, including local Marine retiree John Batiste, who are now calling for Don Rumsfeld's head.

If you pay even approximate attention to what these guys are saying, you see there's no cause for joy - just new riffs on the supposed casus belli. The brass are tut-tutting not about US imperialism (of which they are actually the avant garde) nor about mere murder and mayhem (their stock in trade). No, what gets them is Rummy's lack of effectiveness and efficiency, his basic unsuitability for implementing the Powell Doctrine (quick and massive application of force to annihilate the opposition and avoid another "quagmire," i.e. any situation in which the little guy is able to hold out against our high-tech assaults.)

True to form, the generals just want more bodies to finish the job. Take Batiste at his word. This man - perfectly suited to be a corporate executive who gives closed-door, high-priced pep-talks to business types, as he is doing this week at Nazareth College - thinks we need 350,000 US troops on the ground, minimum. At least that's what he told City Newspaper's Tim Macaluso.

The math says it all: Batiste is telling us we're once again fighting with one hand tied behind our back, as right-wingers contended we were in Vietnam. Men like these are constitutionally unable to say a war is wrong and should be stopped, least of all a war that has left blood on their own hands.

I don't care how many times Batiste goes after his former boss. Mr Spit-shine makes me queasy every time he speaks. Besides, Rummy isn't the issue. The issue is the war and occupation, which must be ended with all deliberate speed, primarily on moral and legal grounds. You might even say it's better for the world that Rummy's still in charge. His ineffectiveness might make it harder for US forces to do maximum damage.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:38 EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006 09:39 EDT
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Thursday, 22 June 2006
What part of STOP don't you understand?
Topic: antiwar
The Democrat and Chronicle’s resident sages have done it again: they attempted to define “a sensible war policy” but ignored the small matter of the war’s illegality.

The June 21 editorial rightly declares the war “the most important public-policy issue America faces.” But in identifying “the heart of the matter,” the editors find only three core tasks: first, determining what must be done to stop the insurgency; second, finding how the US “can “get more support in soldiering and money from our allies”; and third, “stopping the war profiteers.”

Amen to number three. Down with Halliburton, et al. As for number two, read the tea leaves. Italy is now about to withdraw its token force under stiff domestic opposition to the deployment, and there’s a history of similar troop withdrawals by other nations finally listening to their citizens. And of course, there were many more nations who never supported our adventure in the first place and wouldn’t touch it now with even an eleven-foot stick. Anyone who suggests the US now make the rounds with the begging bowl must be totally wacko or Gannettized. (On the other hand, if the US were to prostrate itself before the UN, a true coalition of the willing might form to pick up the pieces.)

And number one? Yeah, right, we’ll whip ‘em with one hand tied behind our back, just like we did in Vietnam. (Actually, we did win the Vietnam War, in the broader sense. US ruling elites did realize their core objectives: thwarting a nationalist movement with merciless physical force and reinforcing an old imperialist object lesson to countries who stray; then eventually re-integrating the wayward country into the “world system” as an offshore sweatshop.)

The D&C editorial writers caution against what they call the “let's-just-get-out solution,” which they say is a no-go because there are “repercussions to leaving Iraq in chaos.” Yes, there will be repercussions – more of what we’re seeing now, though probably not more in frequency or scope, and very likely less. But not just a host of analysts, but the Iraqi people themselves (minus our lackeys; think Vietnam again) are telling us to leave ASAP because our presence is making things worse. We should heed these voices, not least because they echo what our moral instincts tell us.

But finally, we have to get out ASAP because our war/occupation was illegal from the get-go and doesn’t acquire legality with age.

I remember what Stan Goff, a former US Army Special Forces master sergeant, told a Rochester audience last winter at a rally in support of US war resisters. (Confession to a class prejudice: I like Goff because he’s a radical non-com, not an officer.) He said, in essence, we shouldn’t fool ourselves with talk of an “exit strategy.” Military types know “exit” is an order, he said, not a strategy.

Indeed, to borrow a legalism with a good provenance, we must get out of Iraq “with all deliberate speed.” When you’re conducting a criminal military expedition, you have to pull back and pull out - and you should feel blessed if granted even the time to make travel arrangements.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 17:00 EDT
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Monday, 19 June 2006
An irresistible resistance
Topic: antiwar
At least until the end of June, when notoriously shallow Lake Erie becomes a heat sink, cool breezes soothe Fort Erie, Ontario, and Buffalo’s West Side. There may be a heat wave a few blocks inland, but keep to the shore and you’ll find relief. And so it was on June 17: As the region suffered a 90-degree afternoon and the now-routine ozone alert, people flocked to the water: boaters on the Niagara River, picnickers in Buffalo’s Front Park, bikers along Ontario’s beautiful Niagara Parkway.

But on the Canadian side, only a few hundred yards/meters from the river, the political temperature rose a few degrees. It was because of a festival of resistance – “War Has No Borders” - aimed at boosting support for US military resisters now living in Canada and seeking formal asylum there, and fostering even greater crossborder opposition to the patently illegal and immoral US war in Iraq.

The two-day event began June 16 with a long evening program at Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall, and finished up the next afternoon with a rally in a Fort Erie park to showcase the resisters, their families, and their cause. Liz Henderson and I went to both events. The program at Kleinhans dragged on a little – largely because headliner Cindy Sheehan, the famed antiwar activist and mother of a young man killed in Iraq just over two years ago, got delayed in transit. Rumors floated through the audience that Sheehan was getting the same treatment Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams got a few months back, when security geeks held him up at a DC airport, preventing him from speaking at an Irish-American event in Buffalo. But Sheehan finally did make it to the hall, and she gave a brisk, inspiring talk. Her message stays on the money: George W. Bush (she calls him and his aides “boils” on the butt-y politic that need to be politically lanced) is responsible for the death of her son, Casey, and must be held accountable for this and, of course, their larger war crimes.

The Kleinhans program also featured Air America personality Barry Crimmins, a Boston-based stand-up satirist now with the Randi Rhodes radio show. Crimmins set the tone by recalling he grew up in Skaneateles (“an Indian name that means ‘beautiful lake surrounded by fascists”), and he continued delivering zinger after zinger. Check out his website, www.barrycrimmins.com.

But I was most impressed by some other activists who took the podium. Among these was Vietnam combat vet David Cline, a Buffalo native now based in Jersey City who serves as president of the national Veterans for Peace organization. (Disclosure: I’m a once a future member of VFP – gotta get my dues paid up.) Then there was Michael McPhearson, VFP’s national CEO, an African-American vet of Gulf War I. He was not the only one present to sigh about the numbering scheme. I silently asked myself, Will we have to live with the state-fascist equivalent of “One, Two, Many Gulf Wars”?

Delivering a very emotional talk was Buffalo resident Bruce Beyer, who resisted the Vietnam War in his younger days, was busted by US stormtroopers for draft resistance and subsequently spent five years in exile in Canada. Beyer obviously hasn’t given up working for peace. In fact, he’s made news in Buffalo in recent years for his work against Junior ROTC in the city schools. Specifically, he’s taken on school administrators who’d quietly imposed the equivalent of a JROTC draft – preemptively enrolling students unless and until parents took the initiative to “opt out.” Nice message from the administrators to their charges, right? As the nation’s schools struggle with internal violence (cf. this week’s series in the Democrat and Chronicle), US society, represented by putative “educators,” preps young people for organized violence on a global scale.

The high point of the program came when Beyer literally embraced an antagonist from the old days: Stephen Banko III, a highly decorated combat vet who after returning from Vietnam peddled very hawkish views in the media. Banko, who now heads the Buffalo HUD office, confessed to the audience that back then he was acting out of PTSD and alcoholism. As his appearance at Kleinhans makes clear, Banko has come around 180 degrees – and dealt decisively with his addictions.

Another high point: the appearance of Geoffrey Millard, a Lockport resident and National Guard alum who now heads the Buffalo-area chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. (See www.ivaw.net.) It’s great to see the torch of peacemaking and resistance passed to the new generation.

Over in Fort Erie on Saturday, the rally turnout wasn’t big, but the energy was palpable. The afternoon was filled with music, of course, and you could feel an undercurrent of crossborder solidarity that promises greater levels of resistance to come. Several military resisters, including Virginian Ivan Brobeck and Texan Brandon Hughey, told how time in Iraq had clarified the moral questions for them and compelled them to leave the US. (You’ll find a gallery and bios of the resisters, plus other useful information, at www.resisters.ca.) I always think it’s odd these soldiers, some of whom remain proud patriots, are called “deserters.” In reality, they haven’t abandoned or avoided things - they’ve engaged themselves more deeply than almost anyone else in fighting against this war.

One nagging thought: I couldn’t but notice that more Canadians are involved, certainly in proportional terms, in the active GI resistance than Americans are. As several speakers noted, Western New York (and I’d add the Genesee Region) has a special responsibility. Part of this is location: We live at the border, so we’ve got to step up. Another part is history: Our communities were important stations on the Underground Railway. And it’s past time to create a successor network. Anyone looking for, say, a Harriet Tubman award? It’s worth remembering that Tubman lived on both sides of the US-Canada border, of necessity – and that her last home was in Auburn, a stone’s throw from Skaneateles.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:59 EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006 08:08 EDT
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Thursday, 25 May 2006
Another vote from hell
Topic: antiwar
Earlier this week, the House of Representatives outdid itself in damaging realistic hopes for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.

By a vote of 361-37 (with nine signifying “present” and 25 not voting) the reps okayed the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.” The bill, aiming to sanction Hamas, penalizes the Palestinian people by cutting off all but the most narrowly humanitarian forms of assistance.

In short, the House has endorsed a form of economic warfare – the equivalent of terror, if judged by its longterm effects – against innocent civilians who are already suffering massive unemployment and the collapse of basic services. The measure will make it all but certain that things will end badly.

Among the anti-terrorist heroes who voted yes are several Western and Central New Yorkers: Bush clones Tom Reynolds and Randy Kuhl, moderate Republican Sherwood Boehlert, and the usually liberal Louise Slaughter. Out-of-staters Barney Frank, Charles Rangel, and Nancy Pelosi, among many others in the “opposition party,” also voted yes. (But Maurice Hinchey, a Dem who represents parts of the Southern Tier and Lower Hudson, voted no, as did Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich and Georgia’s Cynthia McKinney, et al.)

Don’t wait to “remember in November.” Take a moment today to condemn the yes-men and women for their recklessness.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 18:28 EDT
Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006 05:16 EDT
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