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An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History)
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History)
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Obama is not first president at permanent war, May 23, 2016
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The New York Times recently claimed, and peace advocates repeated, that President Barack Obama will be the first U.S. president to have been at war for two complete four-year terms. It's also become common to refer to the current U.S. war on Afghanistan as the longest U.S. war ever. These ideas fit well with the universal activist demand that we return to the time of peace or the age of justice or the wisdom of the Founding Fathers or the era before superdelegates.

This is all based on a fundamental misunderstanding of history, and of its uses and abuses for life. You cannot "take back our country!" because you never had it. There is no age of peace or justice to be returned to. The United States has been at war since before it was a United States, and formed itself as such in part in order to expand its western wars.

One value of history is in fact to recognize how much better or worse or simply different things have been in other times and places. But the purpose of that is not to restore some better time. All past times thus far, each taken as a whole, have been horrendously awful. The purpose is to facilitate the rejection of the silly idea that we're stuck with whatever we happen to have in the way of a lifestyle at the moment.

One can always find specific ways in which things were once better. Bush used to lie to Congress and get authorizations for wars. Obama just goes to war. But both are awful. The desire to end war was common in the 1920s. Now it's unthinkable for millions of U.S. citizens. But both frames of mind lacked an effective path to peace.

One can always find specific ways in which things were once worse. The war on Vietnam and neighboring nations killed some 6 million people. The latest U.S. wars may have killed less than half of that. Teddy Roosevelt marketed wars as desirable means of building character and slaughtering lesser races. Barack Obama markets wars as philanthropic assistance to the places being bombed. But both kill just the same.

In the perspective of the recent past, we should not be looking at Obama as the longest war president, but rather as a president who has added his bit to the normalization of war, to the restoration of permanent war as routine and unquestionable. It's not the length of his wars that stands out, but the number of them: seven significant wars that we know of, the 2001 AUMF used and misused for military actions in 14 countries, "special" forces active in 75 countries, troops permanently stationed in 175 countries -- and all of this with very little public or Congressional involvement or even awareness.

Targeted and not-so-targeted assassinations, coups, and counter-insurgency operations stretch through the entire history of the United States, as do decades-long wars. To understand this, we have to begin thinking of Native Americans as real people, so that wars against them count as real wars. A good way to do this is by listening to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Read her book, An Indigenous People's History of the United States, or catch her interview on this week's Talk Nation Radio.

Dunbar-Ortiz tells a story of endless genocidal war that employed settlers and their militias against the native people of North America in a manner not unlike Israel's use of settlers against the Palestinians. The first law created by the United States was the Northwest Ordinance, a "blueprint for gobbling up the British-protected Indian Territory." According to Dunbar-Ortiz, "documented policies of genocide on the part of U.S. administrations can be identified in at least four distinct periods: the Jacksonian era of forced removal; the California gold rush in Northern California; the Post-Civil War era of the so-called Indian wars in the Great Plains; and the 1950s termination period."

Some of the settlers of the United States had previously settled Ireland, where the British had paid rewards for Irish heads and body parts, just as they would for Indian scalps. The United States for many years sought out immigrants who could settle on native land. The war on Mexico was not the first foreign war of the United States. The U.S. had attacked numerous Indian nations. Mexico was just one more in that string. With the land now filled, attitudes toward immigrants and toward the rest of the globe have shifted. "Indian Country," in the dialect of the U.S. military, refers to distant lands to be attacked with dozens of weapons named for Native American nations.

John Yoo justified lawless imprisonment, now evolved into lawless murder by drone, with the ancient Roman concept of homo sacer, a person who must obey the government but whom the government or anyone else may kill. Yoo referred to past U.S. Supreme Court opinions upholding this category for Native Americans. The Indian was the original "terrorist."

The United States did not go to war after reaching California. Rather it simply continued the war it had been in from the start. The United States didn't wage war for decades because of a communist threat and then for additional decades because of a terrorist threat. Rather, lies about Crazy Horse on the warpath (while he was in a reservation) evolved into lies about missile gaps which evolved into lies about incubators, WMDs, and Libyan Viagra.

None of this makes war unendable. We can end it tomorrow if we choose. The unimaginative can check the history of other parts of the world that have engaged in war far less or not at all. But we will not bring the U.S. corner of the world under control until after we recognize what the problem is.


War and Delusion: A Critical Examination (Twenty-first Century Perspectives on War, Peace, and Human Conflict)
War and Delusion: A Critical Examination (Twenty-first Century Perspectives on War, Peace, and Human Conflict)
by Laurie Calhoun
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars The "Just War" Theory Can't Survive This Book If There's Any Justice, May 13, 2016
With the Catholic Church, of all things, turning against the doctrine that maintains there can be a "just war," it's worth taking a serious look at the thinking behind this medieval doctrine, originally based in the divine powers of kings, concocted by a saint who actually opposed self-defense but supported slavery and believed killing pagans was good for the pagans -- an anachronistic doctrine that to this day still outlines its key terms in Latin.

Laurie Calhoun's book, War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, casts an honest philosopher's eye on the arguments of the "just war" defenders, taking seriously their every bizarre claim, and carefully explaining how they fall short. Having just found this book, here is my updated list of required reading on war abolition:

A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War, 2015.
War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo, 2014.
War and Delusion: A Critical Examination by Laurie Calhoun, 2013.
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand, 2013.
The End of War by John Horgan, 2012.
Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac, 2012.
Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry, 2009.
Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers, 2009.

These are the criteria Calhoun lists for jus ad bellum:

be publicly declared
have a reasonable prospect for success
be waged only as a last resort
be waged by a legitimate authority with right intention, and
have a cause both just and proportional (sufficiently grave to warrant the extreme measure of war)

I would add one more as a logical necessity:

have a reasonable prospect of being conducted with jus in bello.

These are the criteria Calhoun lists for jus in bello:

only proportional means to sound military objectives may be deployed
noncombatants are immune from attack
enemy soldiers must be respected as human beings, and
prisoners of war are to be treated as noncombatants.

There are two problems with these lists. The first is that even if every item were actually met, which has never happened and can never happen, that would not make the mass killing of human beings moral or legal. Imagine if someone created criteria for just slavery or just lynching and then met the criteria; would that satisfy you? The second problem is that the criteria are, as I've mentioned -- just as with President Obama's similar, extra-legal, self-imposed criteria for drone murders -- never actually met.

"Publicly declared" seems like the one item that might actually be met by current and recent wars, but is it? Wars used to be announced before they began, even to be scheduled by mutual agreement of the parties in some cases. Now wars are, at best, announced after the bombs have begun falling and the news become known. Other times, wars are never announced. Enough foreign reporting piles up for diligent news consumers in the United States to discover that their nation is at war, via unmanned drones, with yet another nation. Or a humanitarian rescue operation, such as in Libya, is described as something other than a war, but in a manner that makes clear to the critical observer that yet another governmental overthrow is underway with chaos and human tragedy and ground troops to follow. Or the serious citizen researcher may discover that the U.S. military is helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen, and later discover that the U.S. has introduced ground troops -- but no war is publicly declared. I've asked crowds of peace activists if even they can name the seven nations that the current U.S. president has bombed, and usually nobody can do it. (But ask them if some unspecified wars are just, and lots of hands will shoot upward.)

Do any wars "have a reasonable prospect for success"? That may depend in some exceptional case or cases on exactly how you define "success," but clearly very nearly all U.S. wars of the past 70 years (and there have been many dozens) have been failures on their own basic terms. "Defensive" wars have created new dangers. Imperial wars have failed to build empire. "Humanitarian" wars have failed to benefit humanity. Nation building wars have failed to build nations. Wars to eliminate weapons of mass destruction have been waged in places where such weapons didn't exist. Wars for peace have brought more wars. Nearly every new war is defended based on the possibility that it could somehow be like a war that was waged over 70 years ago or like a war that never happened (in Rwanda). After Libya, those same two excuses were used again in Syria, with the example of Libya consciously erased and forgotten like so many others.

"Waged only as a last resort" is central to jus ad bellum, but has never been met and can never be met. There is quite obviously always another resort. Even when a country or region is actually attacked or invaded, nonviolent tools are more likely to succeed and are always available. But the United States wages its wars offensively abroad. (Calhoun points out that the 2002 National Security Strategy included this line: "We recognize that our best defense is a good offense.") In these cases, even more obviously, there are countless nonviolent steps always available -- and always preferable as in fact, in war, the worst defense is a good offense.

"Waged by a legitimate authority with right intention," is a pretty meaningless criterion. Nobody has defined what counts as a legitimate authority or whose professed intentions we should believe. The main purpose of this criterion is to distinguish whichever side of a war you're on from the other side, which is illegitimate and evil intentioned. But the other side believes just the opposite, just as baselessly. This criterion also serves to permit, through the Fallacy of Medieval Monkish Bulls***ting, any and all violations of the criteria of jus in bello. Are you slaughtering lots of non-combatants? Did you know you were going to? It's all perfectly fine as long as you state that your intention was something other than murdering all those people -- something your enemy is not permitted to state; your enemy can in fact be blamed for allowing those people to live where your bombs were falling.

Can a war "have a cause both just and proportional (sufficiently grave to warrant the extreme measure of war)"? Well, any war can have a wonderful cause, but that cause cannot justify a war that violates all the other criteria in this list as well as the basic demands of morality and law. A just cause is always best pursued by means other than war. That a war was fought prior to ending slavery doesn't alter the preferability of the course many nations took in ending slavery without a civil war. We wouldn't justify killing each other in big fields now, even if we ended fossil fuel consumption afterwards. Most causes that can be imagined or for which we are told actual wars are fought, don't involve ending or preventing anything remotely as bad as war. World War II, prior to and during which U.S. and British officials refused to rescue the Nazis' future victims, is often justified by the evil of killing people in camps, even though that justification arose after the war, and even though the war killed several times as many people as the camps.

Why did I add this item: "have a reasonable prospect of being conducted with jus in bello"? Well, if a just war must meet both sets of criteria, then it must not be launched unless it has some hope of meeting the second set -- something no war has ever done and no war ever will do. Let's look at these items:

"Only proportional means to sound military objectives may be deployed." This can be met only because it is completely meaningless, all to be self-servingly shaped by the eye of the war-monger or the victor. There's no empirical test to allow a neutral party to declare that something is or is not proportional or sound, and no war is known to have been prevented or significantly restrained by such a test. This criterion can never be met to the satisfaction of victims or losers.

"Noncombatants are immune from attack." This may never have been met. Even scholars opposed to war tend to focus on past wars between wealthy nations rather than past wars of elimination waged by wealthy nations against indigenous populations. The fact is that war was always horrible news for noncombatants. Even medieval European wars in the age in which this ridiculous doctrine was devised featured sieges of cities, starvation and rape as weapons of war. But during the past 70 years noncombatants have been the majority of the victims of wars, often the vast majority, and often all on one side. The primary thing recent wars have done is slaughter civilians on one side of each war. A war simply is a one-sided slaughter, and not some imaginary enterprise in which "noncombatants are immune from attack." Defining "attack," as mentioned above, to not include any mass murders not "intended" by the murderers won't change this.

"Enemy soldiers must be respected as human beings." Really? If you walked next door and killed your neighbor, and then went before a judge to explain how you respected your neighbor as a human being, what would you say? Either you have a career open to you as a "just war" theorist, or you've begun by now to recognize the absurdity of that enterprise.

"Prisoners of war are to be treated as noncombatants." I'm not aware of any war in which this has been fully met and am not sure how it can be without freeing the prisoners. Of course some parties in some wars have come much closer than others to meeting this criterion. But the United States has taken the recent lead in moving common practice further away from, rather than closer to, this ideal.

Beyond these sorts of problems with "just war" theory, Calhoun points out that treating a nation as if it were a person is endlessly problematic. The idea that soldiers sent to war are collectively defending themselves doesn't work because they could defend themselves by deserting. In fact they're putting themselves at risk to kill people who generally have nothing to do with whatever offense those people's leaders are accused of -- and doing so for a paycheck.

Calhoun does something else in her book, just in passing, that created such vicious attacks when Jane Addams tried it that the great peace activist was nearly beaten down and driven out of the field. Calhoun mentions that soldiers are medicated in preparation for battle. Addams said, in a speech in New York, during World War I, that in countries she'd visited in Europe, young soldiers had said that it was difficult to make a bayonet charge, to kill other young men up close, unless "stimulated," that the English were given rum, the Germans ether, and the French absinthe. That this was a hopeful indication that men weren't all natural murderers, and that it was accurate, were brushed aside in the attacks on Addams' "slander" of the sainted troops. In fact U.S. soldiers who participate in today's "just wars" die more from suicide than any other cause, and efforts to hold off their moral injury may have made them the most medicated killers in history.

Then there's the problem that the United States has made itself the top weapons supplier to all variety of war makers around the globe and often finds itself fighting against U.S. weapons, and even finds U.S.-armed and U.S.-trained troops fighting against each other, as right now in Syria. How can any entity claim just and defensive motivations while leading arms profiteering and proliferation?

While "just war" theory crumbles upon consideration of the existence of the arms trade, it does itself rather resemble the arms trade. The marketing and proliferation of "just war" rhetoric around the globe provides all sorts of war makers with the means to win over supporters of their evil deeds.

A while back, I heard from a blogger asking whether I knew if "just war" theory had every actually prevented a war on the grounds of its being unjust. Here's the resulting blog:

"In preparation for this article I wrote fifty people—pacifists and just warriors alike, academics-to-activists, who know something about the use of just war theory—asking if they could cite evidence of a potential war averted (or significantly altered) due to the constraints of just war criteria. More than half responded, and not a single one could name a case. What's more surprising is the number who considered my question a novel one. If the just war matrix is to be an honest broker of policy decisions, surely there must be verifiable metrics."

Here's what I had replied to the inquiry:

"It's an excellent question, because anybody can lists scores of wars defended using 'just war,' but the purpose has always seemed to be to defend those wars or parts of them or ideals of them, in contrast to other 'unjust wars,' not to actually prevent certain wars. Of course, with such an ancient and widespread doctrine, one could attribute any sort of restraint to it, any fair treatment of prisoners, any decision not to use nuclear weapons, Iran's decision not to use chemical weapons in retaliation against Iraq, etc. But one of the reasons I've never thought of 'just war' as a means of preventing or ending or limiting actual wars is that it really isn't empirical; it's all in the eye of the warmonger. Is a certain level of murder 'proportional' or 'necessary'? Who knows! There has never been any way to actually know. It's never in 1700 years been developed into a tool for actual use. It's a tool for rhetorical defense, not to be looked into too closely. If looked into closely now, we can hope, it will appear to many more people exactly as coherent as just slavery, just rape, and just child abuse."


The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
by Seymour M. Hersh
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Seymour Hersh Erases Public's Role on Syria, May 10, 2016
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We once again owe the great reporter Seymour Hersh a serious debt for his reporting, in this case for his London Review of Books articles on President Barack Obama's war making, now published as a book called The Killing of Osama bin Laden. Despite the title, three of the four articles are about Syria.

But there is a shortcoming in how Hersh tells history, as in how many reporters do. I've watched Hersh do interviews about the topic on Democracy Now and never once heard him mention the U.S. public. In his book, the public gets one mention: "The proposed American missile attack on Syria never won public support, and Obama turned quickly to the UN and the Russian proposal for dismantling the Syrian chemical warfare complex." Taken in isolation, that sentence suggests what I think is an important causal relationship. Taken in the context of a book that spends many pages offering other explanations for Obama's decision, that one sentence seems to be simply stating two unrelated incidents in chronological order.

A few sentences later, Hersh writes that Obama had claimed to have evidence of Bashar al Assad's guilt in a chemical weapons attack, but then turned to Congress for a vote and accepted Assad's offer to give up chemical weapons. From this, Hersh concludes that Obama must have been made aware of evidence contradicting his claim. (In fact, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper supposedly rather pointedly told Obama that his claim was "not a slam dunk.") Elsewhere Hersh credits Obama's decision not to bomb Syria to "military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially dangerous." Hersh writes that a report contradicting Obama's chemical weapons claims led the joint chiefs of staff to warn Obama that attacking Syria could be "an unjustified act of aggression."

You may be wondering which of the seven wars Obama is now engaged in isn't an unjustified act of aggression, or how a chemical weapons attack would make a war into a justified act of aggression, but Hersh also cites a DIA assessment in 2013 that overthrowing Syria could create a Libya-like disaster -- something that a 2012 DIA assessment also warned was in the making. But, one might ask, where is the public uproar or any other sort of consequence for the White House from the fact that Obama blatantly lied about a Libyan threat to massacre civilians in Benghazi and used that lie to create the current disaster in Libya? What has been the downside to the president of having lied about a mountaintop rescue in order to get into more warmaking in Iraq and Syria? How have endless lies about Ukraine or drone strikes come back to bite the prevaricator in chief? What would have been different about getting caught lying about a chemical weapons attack in Syria? And with those lies having in fact been told and being now well-exposed by Hersh and others, is it possible to find a dozen Americans and a dog who give a damn?

The difference was this. Public pressure had made the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq illegal and shameful, powerful enough to toss out Congressional majorities in 2006 and to deny Hillary Clinton a nomination in 2008. Syria 2013 resembled Iraq 2003 in too many ways. WMD lies were still unstable ground. Other types of lies were much preferred. Secretive wars and slow buildups would be better tolerated. A new shock and awe over WMD lies, entering a new war on the side of al Qaeda, with the strongest supporters of such madness actually opposed in this case because the president was a Democrat -- all of this was just too weak a proposal for the public. Once the question was made a public debate, with true war mongers screaming for Obama to uphold his "red line," the public made more phone calls, sent more emails, and challenged more Congress members at public meetings over this question than over any other question ever before in history. And Congress members were heard saying they didn't want to go on record as having voted for "another Iraq."

Now, that may explain why Congress made clear it would vote No if forced to vote. But what determined the emperor's decision to tell Congress to take a vote (a role not actually assigned to presidents in the U.S. Constitution)? Here's where it helps to read Chapter 1 of Hersh's bin Laden book, the chapter on the killing of bin Laden. This is a chapter largely dedicated to President Obama's mad and reckless rush to violate various policies, outrage various bureaucrats, burn Pakistani relations, endanger sources, and generate various falsehoods that would have to be corrected, in order to as quickly as possible announce to the public that he had slain the terrible dragon. Obama falsely claimed that bin Laden was engaged in running a major terrorist organization and had been armed and killed in a shoot out. In fact, bin Laden was an irrelevant old invalid, unarmed, unguarded, and murdered in cold blood. Obama also lied about how bin Laden had been found, which facilitated lies to the effect that torture had accomplished something, a lie put into the movie Zero Dark Thirty by the CIA. Never directly mentioned in this saga is the looming presence of the U.S. public, the entity to which Obama went running head over heels to blurt out his news and plead for a triumphal arch to be built in his honor.

U.S. politicians have a very odd and corrupt relationship with the public, as has that public with itself. Numerous actions are taken on behalf of donors in stark opposition to the public will. But public opinion remains a major focus for politicians. Perhaps Hersh considers the point too obvious to mention, or perhaps he considers it false. He doesn't say. But he should be aware that much of the public considers it false, that even peace activists who try to pressure politicians for peace often believe they have no impact. Hersh must also be aware that politicians go out of their way to pretend that the public has no impact.

Hersh is clear that the decision to proceed with eliminating Syria's chemical weapons came after the decision not to bomb. But he paints the decision not to bomb as an internal decision focused on picking the policy that would have the best results and be based on accurate information. He cannot be unaware that most U.S. government policies are not shaped around those criteria.

The general view of the U.S. public is that "democracy" should be spread around the globe and that any politician who changes their position in response to public demand is shameful and disreputable. Politicians in the United States are applauded for claiming to ignore opinion polls and to act on principle, which they universally claim. "There is probably a perverse pride in my administration," said President Obama, "and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular." The identical sentiment has been articulated by nearly every U.S. politician for many years.

In the late 1990s, Lawrence Wittner was researching the anti-nuclear movement of decades past. He interviewed Robert "Bud" McFarlane, President Ronald Reagan's former national security advisor: "Other administration officials had claimed that they had barely noticed the nuclear freeze movement. But when I asked McFarlane about it, he lit up and began outlining a massive administration campaign to counter and discredit the freeze -- one that he had directed. . . . A month later, I interviewed Edwin Meese, a top White House staffer and U.S. attorney general during the Reagan administration. When I asked him about the administration's response to the freeze campaign, he followed the usual line by saying that there was little official notice taken of it. In response, I recounted what McFarlane had revealed. A sheepish grin now spread across this former government official's face, and I knew that I had caught him. 'If Bud says that,' he remarked tactfully, 'it must be true.'"

Admitting to public influence is usually the last thing an elected official wants to do. It's viewed by them and by the public alike as the exact equivalent of admitting to the influence of campaign bribery, . . . er, I mean, contributions. Even well-meaning activists see elections as exactly as corrupting a factor of pure principled politics as lobbyist meetings, proposing as a result such "reforms" as longer terms in office and term limits. And yet, when it comes to the decision not to bomb Syria in 2013 (and instead merely to keep arming and training proxies and searching for other means of more slowly making a bad situation worse), the White House admits to public influence.

This was not merely reading polls, in which the U.S. public opposed arming proxies even more than dropping bombs. But neither was it "doing the right" wonky thing, and the public be damned. Remember, Obama asked the CIA for a report on whether arming proxies had ever "worked," and the report said no it hadn't -- except for that time in Afghanistan (blowback not included). Obama was intent on doing what both the public and the military warned against. But he wouldn't do it in too big and dramatic a manner under a public spotlight with the words "Iraq Part II" flashing on the marquee. Here's a bit of Obama's self-portrait as Saint Francis in The Atlantic:

"But the president had grown queasy. In the days after the gassing of Ghouta, Obama would later tell me, he found himself recoiling from the idea of an attack unsanctioned by international law or by Congress. The American people seemed unenthusiastic about a Syria intervention; so too did one of the few foreign leaders Obama respects, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. She told him that her country would not participate in a Syria campaign. And in a stunning development, on Thursday, August 29, the British Parliament denied David Cameron its blessing for an attack. John Kerry later told me that when he heard that, 'internally, I went, Oops.'"

Obama is also quoted as listing the House of Commons vote as one of the major factors in his own decision. And then there's Joe blurt-it-out Biden, in the same article:

"When I spoke with Biden recently about the red-line decision, he made special note of this fact. 'It matters to have Congress with you, in terms of your ability to sustain what you set out to do,' he said. Obama 'didn't go to Congress to get himself off the hook. He had his doubts at that point, but he knew that if he was going to do anything, he better damn well have the public with him, or it would be a very short ride.' Congress's clear ambivalence convinced Biden that Obama was correct to fear the slippery slope. 'What happens when we get a plane shot down? Do we not go in and rescue?,' Biden asked. 'You need the support of the American people.'"

Do you? Do these characters care about or want that support on corporate trade agreements or healthcare or climate destruction, on banker bailouts or super delegates or military spending? No, they're happy to ignore minor levels of public activism disempowered by a belief in its own impotence, by the pretense of politicians that it is ignored, and by the partisanship that usually provides cover for roughly half of office holders on any given topic. But when the public is united and energized, when it feels empowered to hold somebody accountable, politicians do still sit up and pay attention.

The influence of the public on the 2013 Syria decision began with the 2003 public uprising that made the United Nations refuse legal cover to attacking Iraq. After Russia and China went along with the pretense of UN cover for attacking Libya in 2011, they refused to do the same on Syria in 2013. This was going to have to be an Iraq-like war without any UN fig leaf.

Public pressure came through the governments of the UK and Germany, and it came principally through Congress. It also poured into the White House directly. It also came through the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others in the military machinery of Washington who knew what the public response to Iraq had been. None of these people operate in a vacuum. None of them even aspire to be good representatives of majority opinion, either. But it shapes their actions nonetheless, and we should be aware of how it does so. And good reporting, reporting so good that it can no longer even be published in the United States and must find an outlet in London, should not neglect to include mention of the U.S. public -- even if the public's actions are secrets that are by definition sitting right out in the open.


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The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers
The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers
by Joseph Hickman
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars More U.S. troops killed by Halliburton than by Iraqis?, May 7, 2016
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The U.S. government, from Dick Cheney to Hillary Clinton, told blatant lies about the Iraqi government creating chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in 2002, despite having been informed of the fact that Iraq was doing no such thing. U.S. leaders lied about ties between Iraq and terrorists that they also knew did not exist.

Then the U.S. military attacked and invaded Iraq, in the process heavily bombing old sites of Iraqi chemical weapons from the 1980s, many of those weapons having been provided by the United States. In large part because of the U.S. origin of the old Iraqi chemical weapons, the U.S. kept quiet about them during the new war. Another reason for the official silence was that, during the 2003 U.S. destruction of Iraq, many of those old weapons were seized by fledgling terrorist groups. The war had done exactly what it had been justified as being needed to prevent; it had given WMDs to terrorists.

The geniuses running the U.S. military set up U.S. bases at the sites of old chemical weapons piles, dug giant burn pits into the ground, and began burning the military's trash -- monumental quantities of trash, something like The Story of Stuff on steroids. They burned hundreds of tons of trash every day, including everything you can think of: oil, rubber, tires, treated wood, medicines, pesticides, asbestos, plastic, explosives, paint, human body parts, and . . . (wait for it) . . . nuclear, biological, and chemical decontamination materials.

The burn pits poisoned Iraq, together with depleted uranium weapons, napalm, white phosphorous, and various other horrors, creating unprecedented epidemics of birth defects, and killing untold masses of Iraqis. The burn pits also poisoned tens of thousands of U.S. troops, many of whom have died as a result, including very likely the son of the current U.S. vice president. The burn pits profited Halliburton, the company of the previous U.S. vice president.

The burn pits were no secret, although bases sometimes stopped the burning during VIP tours. Typically, huge clouds of smoke filled the air and created immediate breathing difficulties and sicknesses. Soldiers knew which colors of smoke were most dangerous and discussed it as they discussed an enemy. Numerous burn pits turned hundreds of previously healthy U.S. troops into invalids. But the burn pits at six particular bases caused the most severe illnesses and the most deaths. They caused, among other things, numerous cases of constrictive bronchiolitis, which could only have resulted from exposure to mustard gas -- a chemical weapon left over from a program the United States had supported when it existed and used as an excuse for war when it didn't.

I'm reminded of a ship that sits at the bottom of the Mediterranean. In 1943, German bombs sank a U.S. ship at Bari, Italy, that was secretly carrying a million pounds of mustard gas. Many of the U.S. sailors died from the poison, which the United States dishonestly claimed to have been using as a "deterrent," despite keeping it secret. The ship is expected to continue leaking the gas into the sea for centuries. The earth and water of Iraq have been similarly poisoned, as have U.S. soldiers.

The Pentagon made crystal clear in Iraq, as most everywhere else, that it cares not a damn for the people or the natural environment of the places it attacks, and that it cares even less for the troops it uses to do so. But if you imagine that the Pentagon has reserved its concern for the civilian inhabitants of the Fatherland, don't look too closely into the open-air burns still happening in the United States. The U.S. military is the third-largest polluter of U.S. waterways, top producer of superfund disaster sites, and top consumer of petroleum. At least 33,480 U.S. nuclear weapons workers who have received compensation for health damage are now dead. Where it is blocked by legal regulations effectively enforced, the military shows restraint; where it isn't, it doesn't. In Virginia, the military very responsibly throws dead soldiers into a landfill rather then burning them. Either method communicates equally well just how much the military cares.

Halliburton, for its part, is as happy to deal death at home as abroad. Residents of Duncan, Oklahoma, have sued Cheney's cash machine for poisoning the ground water with ammonium perchlorate. Government investigators also concluded that Halliburton was, in part, to blame for the BP oil spill that flooded into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Joseph Hickman's new book, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers, collects the evidence, including from similar incidents during the first Gulf War that were known before the first 2003 burn pit was dug and lit. Hickman gives us stories of young healthy men who headed off to Iraq believing the lies, believing that the U.S. government that is now begging Russia to stop attacking terrorists because the U.S. wants to overthrow yet another government -- believing that this U.S. government had good intentions in attacking Iraq. These poor souls went to Iraq hoping to protect people from horrible suffering, and ended up inflicting horrible suffering on people including themselves. They come home, develop cancer, get stonewalled by the VA, and die dreaming of what it might have been to have health and the wealth needed to attend college. Their American Dream was cut short by the militarized American Fantasy.

Joe Biden supported a war that very likely killed his son by means of burn pits. He then chose not to run for president because of his grief. His decision not to run received more media coverage than several months of the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders who had voted against the war. But did Biden lift a finger to hold Halliburton or the military or the Congress accountable? Not that I've heard.

Hickman describes the burn pits, and analogous poisons from past wars like Agent Orange in Vietnam, as "recklessly endangering the health of our fighting men and women." The only trouble with this is the fact that all war, all "fighting," consists of recklessly endangering the lives of the vast bulk of the victims (the Vietnamese, Iraqis, etc.) and of the U.S. troops. There's nothing non-reckless about any war. Perhaps distant drone pilots are not endangered in the typical way, but then look at how they're mocked within the Air Force. If troops weren't endangered, people wouldn't treat them with reverence and describe them -- as Hickman does -- as somehow "serving" their country, even while the facts he includes in his book speak otherwise.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held since 1950 that members and former members of the military cannot sue over injuries received on the job. It may, however, still prove possible to win compensation from Halliburton. If so, you can probably chalk up another assist to Chelsea Manning who leaked evidence that the military had knowledge of the dangers when it created the burn pits, knowledge that General David Petraeus blatantly lied about in response to a Congressional inquiry.

It now appears that the 2003- war on Iraq not only created ISIS, but armed it with mustard gas, thereby proving, I guess, that Saddam Hussein could indeed had given WMDs to terrorists had he just been as evil as the U.S. military.


Deadly River: Cholera and Cover-Up in Post-Earthquake Haiti (The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work)
Deadly River: Cholera and Cover-Up in Post-Earthquake Haiti (The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work)
by Ralph R. Frerichs
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4.0 out of 5 stars Corruption in the Time of Cholera, May 7, 2016
In 2004, the United States, which had previously occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, kidnapped the president of Haiti, overthrew his government, and sent in United Nations "peace keepers." In 2010, an outbreak of cholera hit Haiti for the first time ever. The disease had previously been unknown in the country.

The UN had sent in soldiers from Nepal where cholera had just broken out. It hadn't tested the soldiers for the disease. At the soldiers' camp in Haiti, a truck picked up their fecal waste on October 17, 2010, and drove it to a hilltop septic pit overlooking a river. The pit was already full and overflowing. The driver's boss told him to dump his load anywhere. So he dumped it into the river.

Downriver, people started dying of cholera. An outbreak would spread rapidly. Thousands (and still rising) would perish. The "international community," with its benevolent military takeovers, had literally shat on the health of the Haitian people.

Next it proceeded to make matters worse. The United Nations, international diplomats, hired scientists, the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Lancet, and the respectable humanitarian NGO complex in general spent years covering up and lying about what had happened.

Because the armed occupying army of "peace keepers" was widely resented as an armed occupying army, many were concerned, or professed to be concerned, that honestly stating what had begun the cholera outbreak would lead to an outbreak of violence. In fact, the refusal to state what had happened led to the lynching of dozens of practitioners of voodoo who were scapegoated. And false claims about what had caused the outbreak led to misdirected resources in the struggle to eliminate the disease -- and in fact to the false belief that the disease could not be eliminated as it supposedly lay lurking in the environment ready to emerge in any natural disaster.

Avoiding the blame it deserved, the United Nations was happy to blame Haiti and to suggest that poor countries lacking in modern services simply must deal with disease outbreaks eternally. Meanwhile, smaller, better targeted steps, at relatively limited cost, could have eliminated cholera from Haiti as this nasty, deadly disease has been eliminated from other places -- and those steps still could eliminate cholera from Haiti this year.

Ralph Frerichs' new book is called Deadly River: Cholera and Cover-Up in Post-Earthquake Haiti. The author cites a $2.2 billion ten-year plan that could eliminate cholera and improve water and sanitation. That's 0.00002% or so of U.S. military spending. Can it possibly be spared? Dare we cancel half a weapons system, tax a few corporations, or divert some of Hillary Clinton's speaking fees? Apparently not.

Frerichs' book is largely the story of French doctor Renaud Piarroux's efforts to uncover the truth of what happened in Haiti. It's a story of bureaucratic coverup and deception undone by science and journalism. It's a story of supposedly benevolent Western agencies and authorities declaring it unimportant how a disease outbreak began, in a manner that they never would have attempted in the United States or Europe. The New York Times actually denounced "the feverish urge to blame," even though finding the source of a disease is generally considered essential to halting its spread.

Western NGOs proved better in this case and others at helping out during a crisis than at ending it. They began pushing the idea that Haiti would simply have to control cholera as well as it could from here to eternity, a claim that Piarroux had heard before in Comoros, Madagascar, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. Even years later, NPR was airing a folksy liberal newsy-ish story on the views of a discredited scientist exonerating the UN of all blame for cholera in Haiti. And with years gone by, attention and available funding had moved on to other disasters around the globe.

Past cholera pandemics have often followed armies. The UN sends more armies to more places than anyone other than the United States. That has to stop. Not because the cholera contamination was intentional, not because a secret world government run by black helicopters is planning to destroy apple pie or Christianity, but because countries are better off without their governments overthrown, doctors are better assistance than soldiers, unaccountable bureaucracies often do more harm than good, and peace is not going to be found at the end of a thousand guns.

Here's Chelsea Clinton in early 2010 as Haiti dealt with an earthquake and had yet to be hit with cholera: "The incompetence is mind numbing. The UN people I encountered were frequently out of touch … anachronistic in their thinking at best and arrogant and incompetent at worst. There is NO accountability in the UN system or international humanitarian system.” But the focus of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to her emails, was on public relations, specifically on countering all negative accounts of U.S. involvement in Haiti. She had just supported another coup in Honduras, and later that year U.S. diplomats would clamp down on efforts to honestly report what had brought cholera to Haitian shores.

If Haiti had the same vote at the United Nations that the United States does, this would not have happened. If democracy were a serious worldview rather than a fund-generating slogan, this would not have happened. The Catholic Church of all ancient bloated bureaucracies is considering dropping "just war" sophistry after 1,700 years. How many years will it be before the United Nations tries nonviolence, democracy, independence from the five war powers, and respect for human life?


Boy With A Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner's Fight for Justice
Boy With A Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner's Fight for Justice
by Jean R. Trounstine
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5.0 out of 5 stars ​What's the Truth Hidden by the "Super Predators" Lie?, April 17, 2016
The desire to punish for the joy of punishing, for revenge, or for racist or sadistic domination has always had certain difficulties hiding behind the pretense of punishing for protection from danger. Creating fear of (young, black, male) "super predators" was a propaganda tactic for politicians like Hillary Clinton that bore some similarity to the efforts by politicians like Hillary Clinton to create fear of Iraqi weapons that didn't exist. The latter was meant to hide U.S. aggression toward Iraq. The former was meant to hide mad, raging punitive vindictiveness that sought to put lots of people in cages for lots of time regardless of the damage done.

One of the difficulties that pretending to punish people for public safety has in hiding real motives for mass incarceration is that the people whom the punishers most want to lock up for the longest time (or execute) are generally the least likely people to commit another crime (even if guilty of the first one). A 2009 study cited in the remarkable new book, Boy With a Knife, found that those who had been incarcerated for homicide were the very least likely to commit any kind of crime. In California in 2011 almost 49% of prisoners released later returned to prison for new criminal convictions, but that figure was less than 1% for those released who had been convicted of murder.

Part of the explanation for this may be that those convicted of murder were kept longer in prison and that older people are less likely to murder than younger people. But many studies have also found that prison has the opposite effect of rehabilitation, that people who learn to survive in prison are learning how not to survive when released, and that being released with the label of "felon" and little to no assistance in finding employment or income makes rehabilitation less likely. But even the theory that age is a factor or a theory that prison actually rehabilitates people cuts against the theory of the "super predator," of the subhuman monster incapable of reform.

There's also overwhelming evidence that locking up children makes them more likely to commit crimes as adults. This is true in general, and most children who are locked up are locked up for minor, non-violent crimes, the sorts of crimes that tend to be repeated a lot more than murder does. Yet, the United States, now the only nation on earth that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which would put an end to such practices, locks up children in adult prisons and tells itself this outrage is justified by the need to protect the public from what Hillary Clinton used to call "super predators." The U.S. tries about 250,000 children in adult courts each year, not because this serves the children or adults or society, but because of a general sense of hatred of and fear of those children. Wildly out of proportion to actual levels of crime, 62% of the children tried in adult courts are African American.

Boy With a Knife provides this context but principally tells the true account of a crime and its punishment. In 1993 in Massachusetts a white boy named Karter Reed fatally stabbed another boy. Nothing excuses that action anymore than anything excuses flying an airplane into the World Trade Center. But learning the events that led up to it explains it, just as learning what U.S. foreign policy was during the 1990s explains 9/11. Reed was denied a father by incarceration. Reed grew up in a culture of violence and danger. Reed believed, just like the Pentagon, that being armed with deadly weaponry would keep him safe. Reed panicked and lashed out, not bombing Libya but sticking a knife into another boy's stomach. He did so not imagining the boy would die. Nobody dies from such things on television, after all. He did so in a crowded school classroom full of adults there to break up a fight, adults who were guaranteed to witness his action and to apprehend him.

Karter was tried in adult court and sent away to adult prison following a trial in which he was falsely presented as a monster who had killed joyfully. Beyond the actual crime, which was indeed monstrous, Karter was prosecuted for supposedly being rebellious, anti-social, cool and calculating, enjoying murder and reveling in it -- all of which happened not to be true, but none of which had anything to do with the suffering of the victim, the victim's loved-ones, the witnesses, or the community. How many decades should be added to a child's sentence in hell for having smiled or for having broken trivial prison rules since being locked up pre-trial? How is restitution made or justice restored by locking a child in a cage until he's old?

The answer, it seems, is: with great difficulty and struggle and rarity. Karter Reed's story is one of redemption, of beating the odds, of rehabilitating himself despite prison, not because of it. It's one of the better stories from among the thousands of stories that we know so little of and that should not have to exist.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2016 5:47 AM PDT


Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War
Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War
by David Carroll Cochran
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Case for War Abolition That You Might Miss, March 1, 2016
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I’m afraid that one of the best books I’ve read on war abolition may be overlooked by non-Catholics, because its title is Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War (by David Carroll Cochran). The book does draw on Catholic arguments against war and work to rebut Catholic arguments in favor of war, but in my view this enriches the debate and detracts not at all from Cochran’s universal argument for the elimination of all war — much of which has little or nothing to do with Catholicism. I’ve added this book to my war abolition shelf along with these books of my own and others:

Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry (2009)
Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers (2009)
War Is A Lie by David Swanson (2010)
The End of War by John Horgan (2012)
Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac (2012)
War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson (2013)
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand (2013)
War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo (2014)
Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran (2014)
A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War (2015)
War Is A Lie: Second Edition by David Swanson (April 5, 2016)

“War’s two great lies are its righteousness and its inevitability.” Thus begins Cochran’s book, and he demonstrates the truth of his statement beyond any reasonable doubt. He examines the lies that are told to start wars and the lies that are told about how wars are conducted. We might call these two kinds of lies mendacia ad bellum and mendacia in bello. Cochran puts a major emphasis on the latter, pointing out that war kills a large number of innocents — and always has, even in earlier epochs armed by very different weaponry. There never was any just ad bellum or jus in bello.

Cochran includes among the innocent both civilians and soldiers. Including only civilians is enough to make his point, as wars have always killed large numbers of civilians (though the percentage of dead who are civilian has increased in recent decades to the point where it is the vast majority of those killed). Cochran does not consider soldiers innocent because their side of a war is defensive. He considers them innocent on the side of the aggressor as well — and not only those soldiers who quietly regret what they are doing or those who honestly believe the propaganda that would justify their actions. No, even combatants who fully support the war are innocent, in a certain sense, in Cochran’s view.

This seems at odds with some Catholic tradition. I remember Erasmus urging that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle: “The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!”

I find Cochran’s case for soldiers’ innocence convincing, although I have really very little interest in whether his position is more properly Catholic than someone else’s. He points out that it is generally viewed as wrong to kill soldiers who are wounded or surrendering. This, Cochran writes, is because they have done nothing to deserve being slaughtered, although slaughtered they are in the general course of a war. One idea put forward by war supporters is that in the normal course of war, soldiers are mutually engaged in self-defense against each other, but Cochran points out that the justification of self-defense for individuals outside of war only works when an aggressor has attacked a victim. War is conducted on a very different scale and with very different norms. Soldiers during a war are not expected to try all nonviolent approaches first before resorting to violence, and in fact routinely kill other soldiers who do not pose any imminent threat. Most killing in historical battles has happened after one side has begun retreating. Remember how the United States killed 30,000 retreating Iraqi soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War.

The ultimate fallback justification for the mass-murder of war is that innocents can be slaughtered if the harm done is outweighed by the goals of the war. But such goals are often secret or lied about, and it is the war makers who get to decide whose deaths are outweighed by what goals. U.S. terrorist Timothy McVeigh blew up a government building in 1995 and claimed that the deaths that resulted were merely “collateral damage” because killing those people had not been his purpose. The U.S. military plays the same game, the only difference being that it is allowed to get away with it.

Partly the military gets away with it by constantly claiming to have found technological solutions to collateral damage. But, in fact, the latest such ploy — weaponized drones — kills more civilians than it kills people for whom anyone asserts any (always unsubstantiated) right to murder.

To call combatants innocent in analyzing the morality of war is not, in my view, to diminish the moral superiority of refusing to fight. Nor is it to suggest some sort of moral perfection in the individual lives of soldiers. Nor is it to set aside the Nuremberg standard that requires disobeying illegal orders. Rather, it is to understand that no justification exists for killing soldiers. There might be a justification for otherwise sanctioning their behavior, and — more so — the behavior of those who sent them into war, but not for killing them.

Not only is war dramatically different from normal individual relations in which one might speak of self-defense, but, Cochran shows, it is also radically different from police work. Legitimate, praiseworthy police work seeks to reduce and avoid violence. It targets people based on suspicion of wrongdoing unique to the individual targeted. It seeks to facilitate the work of courts of law. War, on the contrary, seeks to maximize violence, targets entire armies and populations, and pauses not for any court rulings but sees two sides each declare the other guilty en masse. Calling a war a “police action” or giving soldiers actual policing duties does not change the fact that war is not policing. While good policing creates “order,” war creates violence, chaos, and instability.

Opposing war because it is immoral, and opposing war because nonviolent tools work better, are not separate approaches at odds with each other. War is immoral in large part because it does not work, because it generates enemies and violence rather than reducing them.

The moral arguments of the first part of Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War are excellent, but the real high point of the book may be its review of past institutions of mass violence that were considered moral, natural, inevitable, and permanent, but which are now gone. You’ll find this case sketched out in most of the books listed at the top of this article, but Cochran does the best job of it I’ve seen. He includes discussions of dueling and slavery, but also the less commonly used examples of trial by ordeal and combat, and lynching.

In some ways, trial by ordeal and combat is the best example because the most dependent, as is much of war, on the actions of a government, albeit local level governments in many trial-by-ordeal-and-combat cases. While rulers understood that trial by ordeal and combat did not actually produce the truth it claimed, they went on using it for many years as they found doing so convenient. Catholics produced complex justifications for it, similar to those produced by “just war” theory. Trial by ordeal and combat was deemed moral and necessary for self-defense, protecting the innocent, and creating peace and stability. Gradually cultural and political changes ended the supposedly un-endable.

Dueling’s supporters also believed it necessary, and eliminating it naive and dreamy. They claimed that dueling maintained peace and order. Cultural and political change brought majorities to consider dueling laughable, barbaric, ignorant, shameful, and a threat to peace and order.

Slavery, in the form that has virtually vanished, rested on fundamental lies and contradictions, including recognizing and not recognizing the humanity of those enslaved. It also rested on “just war” theory which maintained that slavery was a generous alternative to the mass-murder of conquered peoples. As humanitarian warriors claim that wars are for the benefit of their victims, defenders of slavery claimed that it benefitted the people held captive. As war supporters today claim that it maintains a way of life that is by definition greedy and unfair, supporters of slavery contended that it was essential to the existing way of life of the slave owners.

Interestingly, Cochran stresses that the evidence shows the demise of chattel slavery not to have been driven by any economic forces but rather by a moral revolution. Just before slavery was ended, it was extremely profitable. But, writes Cochran, “globally minded political and economic elites came to see slavery as an embarrassing deviation from international norms.”

Lynching may not have been exactly legal, but it was an established institution, and the arguments used to maintain it closely resemble the fallacious claims made about other institutions of violence. Lynching, its supporters said, was defensive, defending the white race through an inevitable “racial instinct.” They believed, however, that it should be used as a “last resort.” That is, they believed that, until they gradually didn’t any longer believe it, until lynching gradually became seen, not as a defense of but as a threat to law and order.

If one section of the book is slightly weaker than the others, I think it is the concluding section on what to do to end war. I believe Cochran indulges in a bit too much Pinkerism in his claim that war has been reduced. I don’t place the value he does on spreading democracy in order to spread peace, in part because the leading war maker is a “democracy,” and in part because it has attacked numerous other “democracies.” I think there’s too much focus on blaming poor countries for war. As great a correlate with war as poverty is the presence of oil. And wars in poor countries that do not involve troops from wealthy ones, do involve weapons from wealthy ones.

“End the arms trade,” the Pope told the U.S. Congress, which cheered and escalated the arms trade.


Pink Mist
Pink Mist
by Owen Sheers
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bring Pink Mist to Army Recruitment Offices, March 1, 2016
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This review is from: Pink Mist (Paperback)
Bring spray bottles of pink liquid to military recruitment offices and displays.
Spray them.
Tell potential recruits: Be all that you can be. And this could be you.

“Pink mist. That’s what they call it.
“When one of your mates hasn’t just bought it,
“but goes in a flash, from being there to not.
“A direct hit. An I.E.D. An R.P.G. stuck in the gut.”

Those are lines from a play called Pink Mist written in verse by Owen Sheers about three young lads from Bristol who sign up for war in Afghanistan.
Read it. Perform it. It begins like this:

“Three boys went to Catterick.
“It was January,
“snow pitchen on the Severn,
“turning the brown mud white,
“fishermen blowing on their fingerless gloves,
“the current pulling their fishing lines tight.
“That’s how it was the morning when
“the three of us did what boys always have
“And left our homes for war.”

It’s a lie, of course. Boys haven’t always. Most boys don’t now in the most war mad nations on earth. And boys in many nations don’t at all. And that has always been so, especially before there were nations.

The boys are recruited by more lies:

“I wanted something else — him.
“The man looking back at me,
“the one with the uniform, the gun.
“The one going somewhere, getting something done.”

What about staying somewhere and getting something done? What about going somewhere and getting something other than killing people done?

They joined also for pay and a better future, the chance to support a family. A society in which you cannot support a family without signing up to go and kill people in a distant land is clearly the least civilized sort of society imaginable, and yet it motivates itself to kill those people in large part from its sense of superiority.

They joined for the same reason some people join the groups Westerners go off to fight against: nobody respected them until a recruiter did.

Off at war in Afghanistan, the first time one of their buddies is killed, they become motivated by revenge:
“It wasn’t just doing a job any more.
“It was about killing them.”

Think about a culture in which killing large numbers of people you know nothing about, people who barely even show up in your antiwar plays based on the remembrances of your troops, is “just a job.” It’s society-wide sociopathy. The boys in this book speak of the pride of doing the “job you trained for.” They also speak of it as a game, as the realization of their childhood playing at war.

These three end up, respectively, dead, legless, and traumatized. Their horrors are the story. Their victims, the people of Afghanistan, barely register, and never achieve the level of names or speaking roles. That they are being killed is clear, but they are only specified at all in one incident that involves killing a man, his wife, and a two-year-old girl.

Of course the pain that war brings to the aggressors and their loved ones back home is more than enough to end this monstrosity called war. The stupidity of friendly-fire deaths is prominent in the play. The notion of any higher purpose or of any purpose at all for the war is missing.

One of the soldiers hopes for an end to war:
“and well, I guess I hope it’ll change, somehow.
“Till then, if people knew what it is,
“that would be enough.
“How the loss becomes the reason,
“and how the reason’s an abuse of love.”


This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century
This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century
by Mark Engler
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5.0 out of 5 stars Is This An Uprising?, February 12, 2016
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The new book This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century by Mark Engler and Paul Engler is a terrific survey of direct action strategies, bringing out many of the strengths and weaknesses of activist efforts to effect major change in the United States and around the world since well before the twenty-first century. It should be taught in every level of our schools.

This book makes the case that disruptive mass movements are responsible for more positive social change than is the ordinary legislative "endgame" that follows. The authors examine the problem of well-meaning activist institutions becoming too well established and shying away from the most effective tools available. Picking apart an ideological dispute between institution-building campaigns of slow progress and unpredictable, immeasurable mass protest, the Englers find value in both and advocate for a hybrid approach exemplified by Otpor, the movement that overthrew Milosevic.

When I worked for ACORN, I saw our members achieve numerous substantive victories, but I also saw the tide moving against them. City legislation was overturned at the state level. Federal legislation was blocked by war madness, financial corruption, and a broken communications system. Leaving ACORN, as I did, to work for the doomed presidential campaign of Dennis Kucinich might look like a reckless, non-strategic choice -- and maybe it was. But bringing prominence to one of the very few voices in Congress saying what was needed on numerous issues has a value that may be impossible to measure with precision, yet some have been able to quantify.

This Is An Uprising looks at a number of activist efforts that may at first have appeared defeats and were not. I've listed previously some examples of efforts that people thought were failures for many years. The Englers' examples involve more rapid revelation of success, for those willing and able to see it. Gandhi's salt march produced little in the way of solid commitments from the British. Martin Luther King's campaign in Birmingham failed to win its demands from the city. But the salt march had an international impact, and the Birmingham campaign a national impact far greater than the immediate results. Both inspired widespread activism, changed many minds, and won concrete policy changes well beyond the immediate demands. The Occupy movement didn't last in the spaces occupied, but it altered public discourse, inspired huge amounts of activism, and won many concrete changes. Dramatic mass action has a power that legislation or one-on-one communication does not. I made a similar case recently in arguing against the idea that peace rallies fail where counter-recruitment succeeds.

The authors point to disruption, sacrifice, and escalation as key components of a successful momentum-building action, while readily admitting that not everything can be predicted. A plan of escalated disruption that involves sympathetic sacrifice by nonviolent actors, if adjusted as circumstances call for, has a chance. Occupy could have been Athens, instead of Birmingham or Selma, if the New York police had known how to control themselves. Or perhaps it was the skill of the Occupy organizers that provoked the police. In any case, it was the brutality of the police, and the willingness of the media to cover it, that produced Occupy. The authors note Occupy's many ongoing victories but also that it shrank when its public places were taken away. In fact, even as Occupiers continued to hold public space in numerous towns, its announced death in the media was accepted by those still engaged in it, and they gave up their occupations quite obediently. The momentum was gone.

An action that gains momentum, as Occupy did, taps into the energy of many people who, as the Englers write, are newly outraged by what they learn about injustice. It also, I think, taps into the energy of many people long outraged and waiting for a chance to act. When I helped organize "Camp Democracy" in Washington, D.C., in 2006, we were a bunch of radicals ready to occupy D.C. for peace and justice, but we were thinking like organizations with major resources. We were thinking about rallies with crowds bussed in by labor unions. So, we planned a wonderful lineup of speakers, arranged permits and tents, and brought together a tiny crowd of those already in agreement. We did a few disruptive actions, but that wasn't the focus. It should have been. We should have disrupted business as usual in a way carefully designed to make the cause sympathetic rather than resented or feared.

When many of us planned an occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., in 2011 we had somewhat bigger plans for disruption, sacrifice, and escalation, but in the days just before we set up camp, those New York police put Occupy in the news at a 1,000-year flood level. An occupy camp appeared nearby us in D.C., and when we marched through the streets, people joined us, because of what they'd seen from New York on their televisions. I'd never witnessed that before. A lot of the actions we engaged in were disruptive, but we may have had too much of a focus on the occupation. We celebrated the police backing down on efforts to remove us. But we needed a way to escalate.

We also, I think, refused to accept that where the public sympathy had been created was for victims of Wall Street. Our original plan had involved what we saw as an appropriately large focus on war, in fact on the interlocking evils that King identified as militarism, racism, and extreme materialism. The dumbest action I was part of was probably our attempt to protest a pro-war exhibit at the Air and Space Museum. It was dumb because I sent people straight into pepper spray and should have scouted ahead to avoid that. But it was also dumb because even relatively progressive people were, in that moment, unable to hear the idea of opposing war, much less opposing the glorification of militarism by museums. They couldn't even hear the idea of opposing the "puppets" in Congress. One had to take on the puppet masters to be understood at all, and the puppet masters were the banks. "You switched from banks to the Smithsonian!?" In fact, we'd never focused on banks, but explanations weren't going to work. What was needed was to accept the moment.

What made that moment still looks, in large part, like luck. But unless smart strategic efforts are made to create such moments, they don't happen on their own. I'm not sure we can announce on day 1 of anything "This is an uprising!" but we can at least continually ask ourselves "Is this an uprising?" and keep ourselves aimed toward that goal.

This book's subtitle is "How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century." But nonviolent revolt as opposed to what? Virtually nobody is proposing violent revolt in the United States. Mostly this book is proposing nonviolent revolt rather than nonviolent compliance with the existing system, nonviolent tweaking of it within its own rules. But cases are also examined of nonviolent overthrows of dictators in various countries. The principles of success seem to be identical regardless of the type of government a group is up against.

But there is, of course, advocacy for violence in the United States -- advocacy so enormous that no one can see it. I've been teaching a course on war abolition, and the most intractable argument for the massive U.S. investment in violence is "What if we have to defend ourselves from a genocidal invasion?"

So it would have been nice had the authors of This Is An Uprising addressed the question of violent invasions. If we were to remove from our culture the fear of the "genocidal invasion," we could remove from our society trillion-dollar-a-year militarism, and with it the primary promotion of the idea that violence can succeed. The Englers note the damage that straying into violence does to nonviolent movements. Such straying would end in a culture that ceased believing violence can succeed.

I have a hard time getting students to go into much detail about their feared "genocidal invasion," or to name examples of such invasions. In part this may be because I preemptively go into great length about how World War II might have been avoided, what a radically different world from today's it occurred in, and how successful nonviolent actions were against the Nazis when attempted. Because, of course, "genocidal invasion" is mostly just a fancy phrase for "Hitler." I asked one student to name some genocidal invasions not engaged in or contributed to by either the U.S. military or Hitler. I reasoned that genocidal invasions produced by the U.S. military couldn't fairly be used to justify the U.S. military's existence.

I tried to produce my own list. Erica Chenoweth cites the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, where armed resistance failed for years but nonviolent resistance succeeded. A Syrian invasion of Lebanon was ended by nonviolence in 2005. Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands, while fueled by U.S. weapons, have been resisted more successfully thus far by nonviolence than violence. Going back in time, we could look at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 1968 or the German invasion of the Ruhr in 1923. But most of these, I was told, are not proper genocidal invasions. Well, what are?

My student gave me this list: "The Great Sioux War of 1868, The Holocaust, Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands." I objected that one was U.S.-armed in recent years, one was Hitler, and one was many many years ago. He then produced the alleged example of Bosnia. Why not the even more common case of Rwanda, I don't know. But neither was an invasion exactly. Both were completely avoidable horrors, one used as an excuse for war, one allowed to continue for the purpose of a desired regime change.

This is the book that I think we still need, the book that asks what works best when your nation is invaded. How can the people of Okinawa remove the U.S. bases? Why couldn't the people of the Philippines keep them out after they did remove them? What would it take for the people of the United States to remove from their minds the fear of "genocidal invasion" that dumps their resources into war preparations that produce war after war, risking nuclear apocalypse?

Do we dare tell the Iraqis they must not fight back while our bombs are falling? Well, no, because we ought to be engaged 24-7 in trying to stop the bombing. But the supposed impossibility of advising Iraqis of a more strategic response than fighting back, oddly enough, constitutes a central defense of the policy of building more and more bombs with which to bomb the Iraqis. That has to be ended.

For that we'll need a This Is An Uprising that objects to U.S. empire.
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