Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ruth's Report

Ruth: So the week that started off so tragic, closes the same way. On Sunday, the 3,000 mark and milestone was reached for the number of US troops who have died in Iraq in Bully Boy's illegal war. That was tragic, that the war continues to drag on.

However, as I noted on Monday, it was even disappointing to attempt to find independent media noting the 3,000 mark. Apparently the hangover cleared at The Nation after 6:00 p.m. Tuesday when, as Mike has noted, they were finally able to mention the 3,000 dead as an aside to be tossed out and then hurried past. My grandson, Jayson, asked me, "Does the magazine even care about the illegal war?" He was not asking do they care about ending it, just do they even care? I had to tell him that, as someone who lived through the Vietnam era, the magazine's coverage has been embarrassing.

I wish I could have told him something more positive but I am too old for lying and the truth, though unpleasant, needs to be noted. Tracey, my granddaughter, noted that the much linked to (outside of this community) article on the petition contains a slam at Ehren Watada. I had to confess that I had not read the article because, like C.I., I saw a petition as far less worthy of a cover story than the many war resisters who have stood up and said no to the illegal war.

So she fished it out of the trash can, which has become the resting place for more and more of the issues of late, and read it to me:

"I have an antiwar history from college," Smith says. "But I hate what Lieutenant Ehren Watada did and the way he did it. I wanted a way to say I thought the war was wrong without looking like a coward."

No link because, as C.I. always says, "We don't link to trash." (Those with a print copy can turn to page 13 of the January 8-15, 2007 issue.) For the record, that was the first time the magazine ever printed Ehren Watada's name. Apparently, someone thought that was a quote that was both representative and one needing to be printed. I think it says a great deal about how low the magazine has sunk that the first time they mention Ehren Watada's name is to call him a coward.

Who is the real coward here? I would argue it is the current incarnation of The Nation which has made no time to cover Abeer or any war of the summer of 2006's war resisters. I would further argue that I do not give a damn if someone was "antiwar from college," 'was' appearing to be key, signing a petition does not require as much courage as standing up. This week, when I was on the phone discussing, with C.I., the way war resisters were covered by the independent press in the Vietnam era, we were both able to remember something other than silence and cowardice. Today, the mail brought a letter from C.I. as well as a clipping of an article that ran in the July 19, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It is entitled "Ask A Marine" and is an article about activist and Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic written by war resister David Harris.

I had, sadly, forgotten about David Harris, who not only served time for his beliefs but was also married to activist and artist Joan Baez. I am going to share a section from his 1973 article:

After a while, the war had almost disappeared. The radio said everybody's be home soon and hospitals were just about the only thing Ron remembered. There was a short one in Anchorage, another in Virginia, one in New York State and then another that looked out on New Jersey. The last one was the Kingsbridge VA. It was summer by then and Ron stayed at the Kingsbridge hospital 11 months the first time and then again for six more.
Sgt. Kovic now belonged to the Veterans' Administration. The marines discharged him with a bronze star and wished him well. The VA's job was to retrain certain kinds of ex-soldiers and Sgt. Kovic was 100% retired. The first thing the VA tried to teach him was how to sh*t slowly and once every three days.
That's when they gave the enemas, every third day. Other than that you had to sh*t in your bed and lay on it. The enemas started at five in the morning. Tommy the Enema Man came by with his tube and dangled it under their noses. When everyone was awake, they each got a striker frame. Tommy and his helper rolled them all, 24 para- and quadriplegics, half the ward, into what was called the blue room. When it was full, the two white coats pumped all the stomachs up with soapy water. All 24 lay in there with their withered bodies and listened to their bowels hit buckets like cow flop. When it was done, Tommy wiped each of their asses and rolled them into the shower.
Ron called it the car wash. The attendant ran a thin white strip of pHishohex down the middle of Ron's body and then hosed it off. When they were shorthanded, the attendant sometimes had to leave in the middle of the scrub. The second time Ron got washed, he lay in the Kingsbridge shower for an hour waiting for an attendant to come back. All Ron did was try not to scream like he wanted to. He learned to lie on the tile and watch his body that wouldn't move and had started to shrivel.
Every third day Ron wanted to scream and he never did. After a couple of months, the screams didn't even bother to cross his mind. Ron lay there and felt he'd been used up and thrown away and no one was treating him like the marine he had gone out and been.

Ron Kovic wrote about his experiences in his moving autobiography Born on the Fourth of July which was made into a film starring Tom Cruise. I personally prefer Jane Fonda's Coming Home whose character played by Jon Voight has many similarities to Mr. Kovic and which spends more time exploring life in the VA hospitals.

Reading Mr. Harris' article, I saw that Mr. Kovic was wounded on January 20, 1968. How many January 20, 1968s will we have this in illegal war? How many people are going to come home with permanent injuries, physical and mental, before we say enough? Already, the fatality count is up to 3006, with 22,032 wounded.

Reading Mr. Harris' article and thinking of the other coverage C.I. and I had discussed on the phone, I remembered the sense of dread in 1973, the feeling that the war was not going to end, that the re-elected Tricky Dick was going to continue his plans of escalation and continued war, and I remembered something else: How back then we had an independent media that gave a damn.

Local weeklies were not obsessed with their food reviews, they were obsessed with the realities of the war. The political magazines were covering it. Even the mainstream media was covering it. The rage spilled out in print and over the airwaves.

How different today is. Sampling independent media today, you have to ask yourself if you reading independent media or a contribution request letter sent out by the DNC? Where is the courage in independent media? Not in the pages of The Nation which has become the weekly joke, semi-weekly some weeks since it is fond of "double issues" which are often the same size of "single issues," in my household. In 2004 and 2005, my family would always pick it up with eagerness from my coffee table. Someone, often Tracey, would ask if she could keep the issue, of course she could. Today, it arrives and I usually do not have the heart to open it because it is so useless. One of my grandchildren, my own children have lost hope in it as well, will finally pick it up, read a bit, toss it in the trash and then fill me in on what I am glad I did not waste my time reading.

My generation wanted to change the world and I think we had some success. I think we raised awareness, I think the feminist movement is the story of the 20th century. But we obviously did not achieve everything or the country would not be back in a never ending, illegal war. So, by all means, feel free to slam us; however, we aimed big. We did not pass off fluff as "coverage."

We did not confuse a journalist who cannot declare whether she will testify in a court-marital or not as the big story. We would have expected her not to testify and for her to quite wasting everyone's limited time as she tried to drum up sympathy when she refused to take a position. We would have been focused on the court-martial. We would have given her a thought only if she could declare publicly, "I will not testify in the court-martial."

But, if you caught Democracy Now! this week, you are fully aware that her story of how she cannot reveal what she intends to do passed for coverage of Ehren Watada. Me-me-me statements and I-I-I statements. Was that the interview where she stated she had no opinion on Ehren Watada's stand, while pleading that someone stand up for her?

These are today's journalists? What a bunch of weak ____ (fill in the blank yourself with your own word of choice). If you believe something is wrong, you say so and you refuse to participate. You also do not turn yourself into the story. But navel gazing passes for reporting these days and no topic is apparently more important than journalists themselves.

Which is why I have been thinking of C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" from Friday and of Kat's "Lizzie West, students, Iraq, etc.," and Trina's "Egg Drop Soup in the Kitchen." Ehren Watada had his pre-trial hearing this week and you can refer to Thursday's "Iraq Snapshot," "And the war drags on," and "And justice for none?" for more details but C.I.'s exactly right, this is a story independent media should be all over.

Ehren Watada's decision to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq in June of last year was a courageous stand. It was heroic, it was brave. But it is also true that the story of Ehren Watada is a story about the power of independent media. Before June, and even today, you did not get a great deal of mainstream coverage addressing the lies of war. In fact, they all rushed to avoid The Downing Street Memos. But independent media, back then, was still at least semi-concerned with getting the truth out on Iraq.

Ehren Watada is proof of the power independent media can have. You can make a strong case that they birthed the stand he took. So to see the cowardly way in which so many have chosen to ignore his story is, honestly, disgusting.

One would think that, if only to stroke their own egos, they would be willing to cover his story. But the reality is that they have not been. He is proof of the power of independent media because his stand comes directly as a result of the space for questioning the war that independent media fought for, created, you name it.

This is how they treat the child of their actions? As an after thought or an unmentionable?

That is disgusting and it is cowardly. For those who wonder, like my grandchildren some time do, no, it was not that way during the Vietnam era because our independent media took the world a little more seriously.

There is an independent media conference coming up this month and when C.I. and I were on the phone earlier, we were discussing that. I thought I might mention some of the coverage of it and C.I. encouraged me to but noted, "I'm not going to. What am I supposed to say? There's a conference for independent media and I encourage everyone to attend . . . so that you can protest the silences on Abeer and the war resisters?" I laughed but I grasped and agreed with the point.

What have the recent highlights been in independent media? A lengthy interview with an apologist for the United Nations new security general? That was embarrassing. Or 'jokes' about which of the hosts of Democracy Now! did the James Brown splits?

The latter took place in a lengthy segment on James Brown whose passing Democracy Now! repeatedly noted in the headlines for two weeks. The 3,000 mark? C.I. and Dona are more generous than I am because they count two paragraphs of headlines, one on the 3,000 mark and one the demonstrations. The way I look at it, the 3,000 milestone got exactly three lines of text, one for each thousand, I'm guessing. Jayson calls it Brokedown Democracy and I sadly agree. I watched Tuesday's broadcast at Rebecca's and she and her husband had much stronger words for it. Sadly, I agreed with every one of them.

If you want my opinion, columnists need to stop jotting down their thoughts on a supposedly apethetic youth and look instead at an apethetic independent media.

Ehren Watada may be the child independent media created a space for, and the child his parents raised, but he is also the unloved, unwanted child of independent media. Someone needs to get the message to independent media that the illegal war has not ended and that they are wasting their time and our time with their repeated nonsense. My generation would not have stood for this nonsense and the generations that have come age since, and are coming of age now, should not have to.

The only exceptional moments for independent media this week, as far as I am concerned, were Nora Barrows-Friedman's Thursday interview of Dahr Jamail on KPFA's Flashpoints and
and Truthdig's "Truthdiggers of the Week: The Conscientious Objectors." Take the rest to the woodshed.