Sunday, January 02, 2005

New York Times "G.I. Families United in Grief; but Split by War" alienates Common Ills readers

G.I. Families United in Grief, but Split by the War By MONICA DAVEY

That's the link for the New York Times story we're talking about in this entry. I took the paper out of the blue plastic bag this morning and sat down at the computer. While it was booting up, I intended to glance through the paper's first section before reading it. Then I saw Davey's article and stopped my prescanning to read the story. Apparently many of you have already read it as well because, when I logged into the e-mail account (, I found 76 e-mails on it.

Kara: "What is this f--king s--t? It's only political when someone's questioning the war? You've got idiots talking about how we had to fight the terrorists that hate us! That's not a political belief? You've got idiots saying we need to 'support' the president! That's not a political belief? Now the Times buys into the Fox 'News' bulls--t that when you're 'with' the president and blindly supporting policies it's not political but question any of those policies and you're political? I am enraged."

Kara's not the only one.

I think Davey's written an article worth reading. But she's not merely quoting people saying that those opposed to the war are the only ones being political, she also offers a similar thread in a non-quote: "Relatives who believe the war in Iraq was necessary tend to gravitate toward one another, talking little of politics and more of pride, sacrifice and loneliness." That's Davey, not someone being quoted.

"Little of politics?" It's politics when you say you "stand firmly and proudly behind the war."
To say that isn't politics is dishonest. It's the same as whenever a Democrat objects to some Congressional plan, suddenly Republicans rush out to say that Democrat is "playing politics!" I'm bothered by the lack of awareness regarding what politics entails.

The Times falls into the same hogwash. If you support the war, you're not playing politics. If you oppose it, you are. That's how it works? Someone can go on and on about the war being just and needed and that's not talking "politics?" In what world is that reality? "I just know my child is over there and I want my child to be safe" maybe a non-political statement. Endorsements of the war, however, are political statements.

Ben: "I find it disgusting that a woman's allowed to blather on about her 'loss' and question anyone else over and over and only after she's done with her rants do we move beyond this step-mommy, wife number two, to the actual mother who questions the war, the woman who lost her son, and she is given far less space to speak. Trophy wife, wife number two, is allowed to act as though she's the greiving mother."

A loss is a loss. But I did wonder why the biological mother was given so little space and the step-mother was allowed to speak so much. A search of the Kestersons online reveals that
the biological parents split up when their son was in elementary school and he lived with his mother until he was fifteen. The second wife has three sons from a previous marriage. (They aren't mentioned in the Times article.)

From The Mercury News ( :

"I feel like half my heart's ripped out,'' Clay Kesterson said. "He's my only blood son. But it's a good thing for the whole world that we're fighting this terrorism. The alternative is doing nothing, and then these wackos will do whatever they want.''

That sounds to me like political talk. This notion (from the same Mercury News story) , on Erik Kesterson's enlistment, ". . . his father said the discipline was good for him . . ." may not be political, but other remarks are. It's strange too that his mother (biological and the primary one raising him for his first fifteen years) is given more space in the paper to doubt herself than to state her feelings:

In a way, she said, she wishes someone who lives in Iraq could change her mind for her. "Can't I see the light or something and look at it differently?" she said on a recent afternoon. "I wish I could. But then I watch and it gets worse over there."

In The Mercury News, she's allowed to talk about her loss (as others in the Times are) and the emphasis isn't on speculation about what "could change her mind":

"He was my only child,'' she said. "The most precious thing in the world to me is gone. It doesn't matter that Iraq is free. It doesn't matter that we got Saddam and his palaces and his oil. Once you're dead, you're dead, and none of that counts anymore.''

Brad: "I'm sure you'll get a ton of e-mails but it's not just the right's fault. Have you listened to Al Franken? 'Thank you for your service.' Like a parrot taught one phrase, he repeats that over and over. And that attitude is all over this article. If we flip over completely to some sort of military dictatorship in this country in this country it won't be just because of the right, it will be because of people who parrot empty phrases without ever thinking about them."

Francisco: "I went to sleep in a democratic republic, I woke up in a military junta. That's what I thought as I read this nonsense. Some dopey woman saying, 'It is a relief that we not only understood the mission but we understood the mission. Freedom isn't free.' Mujer estúpida!
You don't understand the mission. That's not relief you have, it's ignorancia."

Erika: "There's a lot of denial being spoken. I was surprised no therapist was brought in. Not that I'd bother to speak to the Times if they called me. Perhaps my colleagues feel the same way? 'Freedom isn't free' begs for someone to make the point that this exactly the belief that those who question are acting under because in a democratic, participatory society you 'serve' by making your voice heard when you object, not by blindly going along. I didn't hear any strong pacifist voices, though I would have liked to have heard those voices. I heard some women who were questioning the administration's wisdom. That's a basic requirement of a free society. Then I heard some women and at least one man who were saying 'I will not question, I will not doubt.' They've confused blind faith with good citizenship. Were they always that way? If so, they are very much 'talking politics.' If not, they are in the denial stage of grief. Had the reporter contacted a therapist, some interesting points could have been raised."

[Note to Erika, The Mercury News obviously agreed that input from a therapist was needed. Their story, written by Lisa Fernandez, included a therapist:

"Dying so young and unexpectedly shocks our belief system,'' said Rita Ohriner, a therapist at the Peninsula Vet Center. "And for a person who doesn't believe in the war or fighting in general, they're going to have a much harder time.'']

Linda: "Why is it that if you support the war, you're rising above politics but if you question it, you're just being political?"

Gina: "Has anyone else voiced their disgust over Al Franken and his 'thank you for your service' remarks. He's like Dr. Laura only instead of glorifying motherhood, he's glorifying service. Service that he chose not to do himself. There are many kinds of service and I loved it when Joe Conason was substituting for Al because we all got to move beyond Al's hero worship of the military. We get it, Al. You were too scared to serve in the military in Vietnam but now you're going to slobber over anyone who's put on a uniform. Conason's a journalist and was able to do what Amy Goodman does which is raise concerns and issues without acting like the fat nerd who always dreamed of being on the inside with the jocks. Seeing Al Franken mutate into the Bob Hope of the millennium hasn't been an attrative sight. Hearing him whine last week about the fact that cheerleaders weren't part of his latest U.S.O. tour brought home how out of touch he is. Strap some falsies on Franken and throw him into the mens' barracks after a group of cheerleaders have c--k teased a group of rowdy men for an hour and see if, after, he still wants to whine because cheerleaders couldn't come along to 'entertain' the 'men.' Or maybe Dough Boy thinks his pudgy, middle aged body inspires lust in the women serving in Iraq so it's only fair the men get some eye candy as well? Or maybe he's just missed all the stories regarding rape? He's so totally clueless."

Trevor: "This article brings home the point you wrote about in November, how 'support the troops' is just a slogan intended to shut down discussion. When you wrote that, I thought 'Interesting' but didn't really get what you were talking about. The comments on December 22nd really brought it home. That's what I kept thinking about as I read this article this morning."

Trevor's referring to "No, we don't do that, not us"; "I cry every night over this American tragedy" -- your responses [].

Abhilasha: "I read a lot of ignorance in the remarks in the story by Davey, people who have lost a child and now attempt to justify the loss instead of facing reality that there child is gone forever and not for a noble reason. It makes them feel better to believe that 'they hate us and wanted to destroy us.' Who is this 'they' spoken of? First, we are told that Saddam is evil and the people need us and will welcome the liberation we will bring. Now a year later we are talking about how 'they' hate us. The ever shifting rationale is political and the people who repeat it are 'talking politics.'"

Jim: "So I sent my son or daughter off to war, cheering them on, and now they're dead and I'm just going to say, 'Well they served their country.' Served it how? In an illegal war? In an unjust war? They can't acknowledge the war is wrong because they can't acknowledge their own failures as a parent to educate their children about right and wrong. If they'd ever done that, maybe their children would have refused to go over there in the first place. Instead you now want to say your children are heroes. For what? Where was the heroism? In WWII, Jews were being sent to the gas chambers. What did we save from the Iraqis from? Oh, wait, Saddam was running rape rooms in prisons and torturing people in them. We saved them from that, right? That's how we're heroes. At least until the horrors of Abu Ghraib leaked out, right?
So help me again because the party line on this is so confusing, how are we heroes?"

Rachel: "I can understand anyone telling themselves whatever just to get through the horror and the pain but at some point you're either going to face reality or live a life of delusions. Reading the article I had a feeling that the majority quoted were going to choose the latter."

Elaine: "It just outrages me to read this bunk! And I'm wondering where on the left our spine is. I will be so glad when Janeane [Garofalo] returns on Monday [to The Majority Report] so that we can get an unapologetic voice from the left. "

[Janeane Garofalo does return to The Majority Report on Monday. Should be worth listening to. To listen online go to The program starts at seven p.m. EST.]

Dona: "I'm so not impressed by the parents who say things like 'it's why my son put on a uniform' and 'we can't turn back the clocks.' While they're off baking cookies to send over there.
Yes, let's make it cozy and comfortable for the continued occupation your half-a--ed thinking will lead to. I didn't send anyone over there. I just want the troops brought home and Iraqis allowed to govern themselves. I'm not trying to 'turn back the clocks' I'm just trying to end what has become a nightmare for everyone involved. And short of a few whistle blowers and a few who've refused to go over there, I'm not seeing any heroes in this tragedy."

Bernado: "If it walks like quagmire and quacks like a quagmire, it's a quagmire. And well meant intentions won't save us. The only thing that will save us is to get in touch with our own humanity. Bumper stickers and magentic ribbons aren't going to get us out of Iraq. Calling for the immediate withdrawal is a humane course of action."

Eli: "If you're old like me, you're probably banging your head and asking 'How do we keep getting into the same situation over and over again and never learning!' But after I finish banging my head, I notice that, unlike with Vietnam, the peace movement was mobilized before the current war began. It seems a number of people learned from history. Now comes the hard point, educating the others who refuse to see that they aren't being high minded, they're practicing the same 'politcs' they accuse others of."

Eli has a birthday coming up, by the way, and he'll be 72. Congratulations on that Eli.

Troi: "I look at what's left of the left and think, 'Until you people find your backbone and your voice, we'll never get out of Iraq.' I read Davey's article today and it's just one more example of how we can't expect the press to do it's job. A woman is quoted saying that we had to go over there because we were hated and threatened. Nothing makes Davey feel compelled to point out to the reader, 'No, we weren't.' Every now and then the press will work itself into a flurry of activity over a lie about Iraq being exposed but they never work that into the continual coverage. That's not something that's going to happen and we should stop looking to the press to do its job unless we are just craving disappointment. But the real left needs to increase their volume and start calling attention to all the lies that have gone down. We need to say firmly and clearly that we have tortured Iraqis, we have killed Iraqi children. Get in people's faces with the ugly truths so that they can't continue to delude themselves that Iraq attacked us or was about to attack us. The occupation is built on a ladder of lies, start pulling the rungs out."

Tammy: "Who attacked who? Reading today's Times, I'm not sure the journalist is aware of her facts."

Wes: "I wish Davey would have asked the woman who bragged 'we understand the mission' to explain it because I think the troops over in Iraq would love for someone to explain why, closing in on two years, they're still over there. Or why they went there in the first place since there are no WMD and that was the lie that Bully Boy used to drag us into war."

Rob: "It just bothers me when something like that into the paper, when someone can say basically 'I know why we are in Iraq, too bad others don't understand it' and the reporter doesn't stop to say, 'Break that down for us.' I disagreed with that woman who was so sure of herself, but I would've been interested in reading why she thinks we are in Iraq. I felt Monica [Davey] dropped the ball. Big time."

Shondra: "It must be frightening to realize that you have lost your child and he or she will never be sitting at the table or laughing with you or arguing with you again. That's not supposed to happen ever, we aren't supposed to outlive our children. But when it happens because of a war that wasn't needed, it takes a lot of courage to not try to glorify the event that cost you your child. I admire the women who were able to look at their loss and not swallow the government's lies that the deaths of their children were a necessary cost for freedom. The easiest thing in the world would probably be to tell yourself just that and attempt to force some meaning onto your very tragic loss."

Mark e-mailed that the whole thing reminded him of the importance of the band Xiu Xiu and their song "Support Our Troops, Oh! (Black Angels, Oh!)" which I hadn't heard. (I hadn't hear of Xiu Xiu either.) He said that the link above would take you to the song (it's almost five minutes long; 4:46 minutes in fact). But that if I wasn't able to get that link to work, I should steer people towards this feature from Splendid which is an interview with Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu and has the link to that song and others. ("Support Our Troops, Oh! (Black Angels, Oh!)" is the second song link on the page.) As always, when you go to links, you should be aware that you might come across language that a company policy regarding net use is in conflict with. And there is strong language used in Mike Meginnis's "Xiu Xiu: On Subversion" (

In addition, I haven't checked out all the other songs the story provides links to so you're on your own there too. (I am in the process of listening, Marc. I've heard three of the four thus far.)

Marc warns "the song may p-ss some people off." Good, we could use something shaking up the national dialogue. More viewpoints only mean we think more and stop shutting down. Some will probably be outraged and say, "He's saying people should die!"

From the Splendid interview:

Splendid: Right. Well, the thing that strikes me about it is that most of the time when people are criticizing what's going on right now with the supposedly finished war and everything like that, they go after Bush. But this, the whole narrative is aimed at soldiers -- at a very specific one -- and most people don't have guts or the inclination or whatever to go after the soldiering aspect of it.

Jamie Stewart: I don't know if it's the guts or the inclination. But the reason for it, that inspired the words for that: I had read an article by a journalist who had followed a bunch of marines. Most of lyrics are just quotes from what the marines are saying. It was incredible to me how open they were about their bloodlust. They didn't really talk about killing people as part of, you know, the strategy for the war or something like that. You know. They were really looking forward to killing people, and they talked really openly about it.
Their job is to be trained killers. The sentiment of being opposed to the war but in support of our army, which is at the moment entirely voluntary... People are choosing to sign up for the military and they're choosing to be killers for a corporate-backed government. It's not like that's a big secret that that's what your job is in the army. It's just kind of impossible to stomach.
I mean, I definitely don't any ill for anyone in the army, but I certainly pray that they don't kill anybody.

Splendid: Yeah, you wish they'd just cut it out.

Jamie Stewart: I mean, I would hope that they could get home and realize how awful the choices that they made are, and that they can start another life. But having sympathy for somebody is different for having sympathy for them doing something like that. I can't stomach it at all. I mean, "they're just following orders", I just can't support it. Something that people have brought up a whole lot is that most of the people who are in the army are people who are coming from incredibly impoverished backgrounds and don't have a lot of options. Which is an excellent point, and that's something that I really need to think about. Sometimes I feel like, "Oh well, yeah, what the f--k [Common Ills edit] else are you going to do if you're growing up in the Appalachians, something like that, and you have your family going hungry all the time." But, on the other hand, deciding to be a murderer isn't necessarily the solution. There's no secret that that's what's going to happen. It isn't like someone becomes a murderer and they're like, "Sh-t! I didn't know that's what the army did!" [Common Ills edit at the start of the quote within the quote.]

Splendid: Well, it's funny. People really don't seem to make that connection. I mean, I'm sure they know it rationally, but in conversation they always seem to kind of dodge around it. I know a guy -- well, I know this guy through his mom who went over there, not because he was poor or anything but because he doesn't really have any idea what else to do. So he got there and he realized, "Hey, wait, I'm going to have to kill people!"

Jamie Stewart: Well, yeah, I can almost understand somebody who is in a completely dire economic situation and they have to find some job. But someone who's middle class and they just don't have any direction, and they're kind of lost and they're like, "Oh, what should I do, oh well I'll just join the army."

Xiu Xiu appears to blend found sound and samples with music they perform. Marc is a huge fan and wants to pass on their upcoming schedule:

March 2005
03 - San Francisco, CA at Bottom of the Hill
04 - Los Angeles, CA at Echo
05 - San Diego, CA at Che Cafe
07 - Los Angeles, CA at The Cooperage
08 - Phoenix, AZ at Modified
10 - Denton, TX at Hailey's
11 - Austin, TX at Church of the Friendly Ghost
14 - St Augustine, FL at Cafe Eleven
15 - Tallahassee, FL at Club Downunder
16 - Atlanta, GA at MJQ the Drunken Unicorn
18 - New York, NY at Knitting Factory
20 - Alfred, NY at Powell Night Club
24 - Chicago, IL at Bottom Lounge
25 - Iowa City, IA at Gabe's Oasis
26 - Minneapolis, MN at Triple Rock
28 - Missoula, MT at TBA
29 - Seattle, WA at Paradox

I'm sure someone will e-mail in "What are you trying to do, promote a group or discuss Iraq?"

If Xiu Xiu (or anyone else) wants to attempt to address what's going on, I'm happy to highlight them. I'm also happy to highlight music clubs at a time when we're prone to attending only arenas or stadiums. More power to the small clubs, they keep music alive. And more power to the artists who attempt to speak to the human condition. I agree completely with Kat's concluding paragraph from last night:

No, you go Cedric! I'm proud of you. Because it's about the music. That CD in your collection isn't supposed to be a soveneir of someone else's life. It's supposed to be there because it spoke to you. These days they try to push music off as an accessory like it's an article of clothing. But music is supposed to be the soundtrack to your own life. Take control of your lives, take control of your music. Let's make that the resolution for 2005.
[see Kat's Korner: Replies Meow to feedback on Almost 41 Years Later,]

Susan e-mails that she had to put on Laura Nyro after reading the article in this morning's paper and ask that we note one song:

May the love that we know
Keep us strong
Don't hurt child

Baby comes into the world
In a veil of divine love
Gets caught up in thunder & rain
What were you dreamin' of
-- "Don't Hurt Child" words and music by Laura Nyro
(this song can be found on Laura Nyro's Angel in the Dark)