Thursday, June 14, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

In reading the series of important issues brought up in FPIF's excellent round table sparked by Lawrence Wittner's essay, I find myself most concerned by the historic omissions from Wittner's own introduction. The question is undoubtedly appropriate, and Wittner's framing of possible explanations for weakness -- ending in the fact of corporate militaristic hegemony -- is useful and correct. But his own review of recent movement history for solutions is seriously flawed. Yes, progressive organizations have been challenging elite dominance for some time, but unlike Wittner's models of unity there is little to suggest that One Big Centralized Peace Union would be the most effective means of countering corporate moves for continuous war.
The history of the U.S. peace and justice movements of the 1950s to the present is in dire need of careful review. These essays cannot adequately address this need, so I will simply attempt to highlight some of Wittner's errors in as succinct a form as possible, for further discussion and review.
First, though SANE and Women's Strike for Peace undoubtedly gained one significant piece of reform legislation in 1963, there is little evidence to suggest that their work or the Test Ban Treaty itself secured any kind of lasting peace or peace sentiment. Indeed, the years following 1963 saw dramatic increases in Cold War rhetoric and arms build-up, as well as hot war realities all over the globe. In fact, the purging of Communists from the ranks of SANE during this same general period may have caused lasting damage in the movement as a whole, especially regarding the class and race issues which the CPUSA and socialist forces gave special emphasis to. Since many respondents to the Wittner article call for greater analytic and programmatic integration of the issues of race, class, and militarism, there is reason to believe that that the early 1960s SANE example balances more on the minus than the plus side.
Second, SANE/FREEZE, though gaining numerical superiority in the peace movement of the 1980s as far as membership was concerned, was far from the central force uniting the movement for nuclear disarmament at that time. In fact, a careful review of 1980s disarmament history will reveal that the history-making June 12, 1982 United Nations Special Session demonstration, which brought over one million people to the streets of New York City in what was the watershed event of the period, was led by none other than Leslie Cagan of the Mobilization for Survival, now the co-chair of United for Peace and Justice. Sometimes bitter disputes arose in the months building up to that demonstration, where representatives of pre-merger SANE and FREEZE and others argued that a single-issue focus on freezing current arms level should be the major movement demand. Masses of grassroots groups that had been building the work for years, however, ultimately demanded that the movement link the freeze with more general anti-nuclear arms and anti-nuclear power issues. Direct actions targeting all of the world's nuclear powers enabled demonstrators to make connections particular to their own ideologies (in a day of coordinated civil disobedience, for example, anti-Stalinists sat in protest against the Soviet nuclear arsenal at the same time that anti-apartheid activists targeted the South African government). The delicate and temporary federation of diverse forces that made the anti-nuclear and freeze movements so significant in the 1980s were championed by structures and peoples resembling the UFPJ, not SANE/FREEZE.

The above, noted by Micah, is from Foreign Policy in Focus' "What the Peace Movement Should Do Now" which features Robin Hahnel, Michael Foley, and Matt Meyer and Meyer who is quoted above (that's an excerpt, he offers additional reasoning). This is a follow up to an essay by Lawrence Wittner which led to a roundtable entitled "What's Next for the Peace Movement" and now the above. Everyone who contributed to the discussion (whether you agreed with their personal suggestions/thoughts or not) and Foreign Policy in Focus, contributed to efforts of peace, efforts to end the illegal war. It's a war that's gone on for over four years. 'Hot topics' from the Water Cooler Set aren't going to end the illegal war. Refusing to address it or mentioning it in one sentence and then working an Iraq term into your title of a piece that is not about Iraq isn't going to end it. Playing dumb's not going to end it or covering everything but the illegal war or, as Mike rightly noted, treating it as War As An After Thought, won't end it. I'm not saying, if the peace movement wants to end to end the illegal war, they need to get serious. They have been serious (and creative and inspired, etc.). I'm talking about the coverage and I'm (Teena Marie nod) talking indy media to you, baby, square, square biz.

Now big and small, media loves to talk about America not being 'touched' by the illegal war. Which must translate as either very small NYC recruitment or else media doesn't hang with the types that would enlist in that region. Across the country, people are effected by this war (even if media isn't). Speaking with a large group of high school and college students tonight, Jim and I heard about it. We were far far from NYC where the media is based and made the huge distance makes it hard for NYC based media to hear the voices? (Yeah, let's pretend that's it.)

They spoke of sisters and brothers and parents, in one case an aunt, they spoke of people they knew who had enlisted (some would be going to Iraq, some already knew they were) and they spoke of Iraqis. The silence around Abeer only exists in media, big and small. In fact, one young woman wanted to point out the huge problem with media as she saw it: An Iraqi woman is stoned and that American columnists can write about "over and over" but Abeer? Jim offered they can't even say Abeer's name. The woman agreed completely. But her point, and it's worth noting, is that American columnists who took a pass on Abeer were comfortable discussing the Iraqi teenager who was stoned. What was different, she wondered? Of course, the very obvious answer is that the woman was stoned by Iraqis and Abeer was gang-raped and murdered (and her parents were murdered as was her five-year-old sister) by US forces.

"It's really easy to talk about one and not the other," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

She takes Abeer very seriously (and she wasn't the only one who did). But she is so right. One is endless copy and tales of Romeo & Juliet reenacted for the ages. (In Romeo & Juliet, they both died -- at their own hands. But don't try to upset the flow of gas bags.) They can get lumps in their throat as they picture that love story playing out . . . if only, hand to heart, that hadn't happened. A fourteen-year-old girl gang-raped, murdered and her copses set on fire by US forces is something that's a little too real and a little too less drama for them. It's a solid point (one I wish I had thought of). But there's no 'gap' for those students, there's no gulf needing to be bridged. It's probably an easy out for media -- big and small -- to claim that's the case. It excuses their nonsense columns on American Idol and rushing to the Water Cooler topic of the day and all the other nonsense they offer (repeatedly) while a very real, very illegal war drags on and people are dying and being maimed and wounded for life.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Thursday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 3504. Tonight? 3515. That includes the US military's Friday announcement: "One Task Force Lightning Soldier was killed as a result of injuries sustained from small arms fire while conducting operations in Diyala Province, Thursday." And, of course, the Pentagon's recent estimate (released today) is that 100 Iraqis are dying each day. And, of course, the Green Zone was the site of repeated mortar attacks today. The 'crackdown' is now a year old. They have repeatedly sent more US service members into Baghdad in the last 12 months (with more on the way) and the 'crackdown' has never worked. But for over a year now, doing the same thing over and over has passed as "a plan" and as "strategy."

Back in the real world, two other names that came up tonight were Cloy Richards and Tina Richards. They weren't mentioned as "those people" or "the soldier and his mother." Students knew their names. Far from the 'worldy' home of media, students knew them and knew the story. Lucy notes Tina Richards' "Memorial Day: A Marine Mom's Perspective" (Grassroots America):

We are recent additions to this parade. Silence greets us; pockets of applause and calls from the crowd, "TRAITOR!" "TERRORIST!" as we continue to march the parade route.
We will not be turned away. We hold our heads high. I reach out to my son. A proud Marine, awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and Good Conduct Medal because he served two tours in Iraq. He could have chosen to march with the Marines and received numerous cheers. For him, it's not a choice. He has a moral imperative to speak out to end this war, and for this he is booed. It is not an easy route to take, but the one our family has chosen. Our children are being killed and maimed as others celebrate and we will not let them forget it.
That Memorial Day was one of distress; I waited to see if my son was going to make it through another tough day. Another memory of what Iraq wrought him.
Would I walk in and find him with a gun in his mouth, or even worse, I didn't come in time. Every day I fear my son will not survive this war. I have searched my heart and my mind wondering if there is something more I can do to ease his pain, to stop his torture, to prevent the inevitable. I feel at times I'm watching a Shakespearean tragedy; I know the end and I'm powerless to stop it.
Each week brings more tragedy into our lives. I work night and day with the only option I feel I have left to help my son. To end this war. Each day this war rages on, each day his brothers-and-sisters-in-arms die and the casualties mount, my son suffers. The chance to heal can only happen when this war ends.
I'm such a coward. I'm so terrified what this Memorial Day is bringing my son. I see the downward spiral he is in, and I'm powerless to stop it and cannot even bear to watch it. I call to talk to him and I don't know who I'm talking to. Afraid to say anything because each word I say sparks new anger or sadness.

Tina Richards isn't a coward. She's scared for very real reasons and she's plugging away regardless. (If you're interested in/able to join her in DC, more info is at Grassroots America). She knows what she's up against. She's seen what happened to Cindy Sheehan when Cindy dared to stray from the party line and she's experienced it herself because, at a time when one would think the left would be sympathetic to her, Party Hacks were all over the so-called left sites rushing to defend David Obey while ignoring or minimizing her. (For those not familiar, non-progressive Obey told Tina Richards he was sick of "idiot liberals" -- I have no idea if she is even a liberal, I know she's a parent trying to help her child.) She saw that happen. She saw how few stepped up to the plate. The Party Hacks came out in full force writing their op-eds and the support she had either grew silent or cratered in many cases.

All that she's fighting for, all that Cloy Richards is fighting for, is very difficult because there's so little support from the media. And let's not forget that in addition to having to deal with everything and maintain, Cloy Richards is also the target of a witch hunt by the US military (as are Adam Kokesh and Liam Madden). That's a really strange way to say "thank you." And it's appalling in every instance. But when you're dealing with Cloy Richards who has been open, and Tina Richards has been open about this as well, about the PTSD he is suffering from (not 'suffered' -- a magic pill didn't pop onto the scene and take it away), it is even more offensive. Adam Kokesh and Liam Madden probably have their own things they carry and I'm not minimizing those. But Cloy Richards is trying to hold on after serving in Iraq. That's why Tina Richards has been fighting. He is just trying to get through the day and this is what the US military thinks is 'helpful' to a vet? Threatening them with the loss of benefits and worse? Putting them and their families through this crap?

It should make you cry. (I'm not embarrassed to say it's makes me cry.) But, by all means, professional Party Hacks, use your forums to defend David Obey and toss Cloy Richards and Tina Richards on the trash bin because, goodness golly, they might not make for an electable with regards to that 2008 White House prize. It's disgusting.

And it needs to be noted, no one is as tough as Adam Kokesh comes off. That's not meant as an insult. But egg him on, and he'll fight back -- he'll deal with whatever he has to on his own. That's his type. Try to start something with him the way the US military has (and it's not over on his end) and he'll dig in his heels and he'll be immovable. But you better believe that no one (including Liam Madden) gives the time and effort like that except to help someone else from hurting. This isn't an ego trip for any of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. They know what they lived through and they're trying to stop anyone else (American, Iraqi, British, etc.) from having to go through that same thing.

But by all means, let's focus on the 2008 White House race. And let's not even focus on the Iraq positions/plans (or lack of them), let's just find a way to be completely useless and screw Iraqis, screw US service members, screw aid workers and everyone else over in Iraq because the most important thing in 2007 is a 2008 election. (That was sarcasm.)

It's sickening and it's disgusting to see this repeatedly play out, week after week, month after month. But the thing is, outside of the media, Iraq is registering. And when citizens went to the polls in November, they weren't voting on an abstract notion of Iraq. It registered then as well.

What we lack isn't a peace movement and it's not even compelling stories. What we lack is a means to get those out. But as demonstrated with the students tonight, peer to peer, people are doing what the media refuses to do.

And what the media refuses to do was a topic with plenty of examples. The question was how come people don't call out the media? Indies call out big media of course. But why won't they call out small media which, with few exceptions, really can't claim to be doing anything or be any better? Well, if you go on ___ and you say to the host, "The problem is independent media!" -- now do you really think you'll be invited back on? And if you write that, do you really think many print outlets are going to run it? It's not about anyone getting their own name in print or getting on radio or TV, it's about the fact that there are so little opportunities given from independent media to discuss the illegal war that no one dares state the obvious for fear that they might damage the entire movement's chances.

With few exceptions, independent media has made themselves worthless. When was the last real coverage -- serious, lasting more than one segment, article or day? November 2004. That's three years ago. Maybe if another city is slaughtered we'll get some more coverage? Sadly, no. It's not safe for anyone who can't pass for Iraqi to be unembedded now (and not even safe for those who can). Chances are the next full out slaughter (didn't we have a smaller scale version of that last summer in Ramadi before indymedia went running off to Mexico and then Israel) we'll take place with little press attention. It's doubtful the White House isn't also aware of that fact.

The e-mail address for this site is And expect little tomorrow other than link-fests in the morning. I'm tired and will be up in less three hours.