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YOUTH SPEAK OUT AGAINST YET ANOTHER WAR!

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

As we are about to launch our country, our resources and our military into yet another war I have been trying to find a way to express the anguish and grief in my heart.  It is undeniable that the recent murders of two reporters by members of ISIS are deeply disturbing as were the deaths of those who lost their lives on 9/11.  I can only begin to feel the indescribable sadness of those who have lost loved ones to acts of terrorism.  The fact remains that our response to 9/11 – invading Iraq and Afghanistan – in an attempt to stop the destructive paths of Al Queda has neither brought the departed back nor made the world safer.

So when I read the following piece on www.commondreams.com this morning, I was convinced that I needed to send it out to those who might read this blog.  The young people who authored the MANIFESTO had clearly thought long and hard about war’s effects and they have organized their words into sub-topics that address each of the reasons why war only worsens problems and contributes to the degradation of the human condition.  What makes their views even more powerful and compelling is their statement that:

“We, the youth of America, have grown up in war, war war. War has become the new norm for our generation. But these conflicts—declared by older people but fought and paid for by young people—are robbing us of our future and we’re tired of it. There is no future in war.”  I honor their commitment, their awareness of our world and their determination to do whatever they can to wake up our nation.

 THERE IS NO FUTURE IN WAR: YOUTH RISE UP, A MANIFESTO

Statement written by Ben Norton, Tyra Walker, Anastasia Taylor, Alli McCracken, Colleen Moore, Jes Grobman, Ashley Lopez

by
CodePink

A peace sign printed on the American Flag is raised during a protest against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Archive / History Channel)

Once again, US politicians and pundits are beating the drums of war, trying to get our nation involved in yet another conflict. A few years ago it was Iran, with “all options on the table.” Last year it was a red line that threatened to drag us into the conflict in Syria. This time it’s Iraq.

We, the youth of America, have grown up in war, war war. War has become the new norm for our generation. But these conflicts—declared by older people but fought and paid for by young people—are robbing us of our future and we’re tired of it.

There is no future in war.

We, the youth of America, are taking a stand against war and reclaiming our future.

War does not work. Period.

War does not work from an economic perspective

In 2003 US politicians orchestrated the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq based on blatant lies—lies that have cost the American people over $3 trillion.

Imagine what we could have done with this money:

  • With $3 trillion dollars, we could have guaranteed free higher education for all interested Americans. Instead, we are wallowing in over $1 trillion in outstanding college loan debt.
  • With $3 trillion, we could have created a system of universal health care. Instead, affordable health care is still out of reach for many Americans and we have no idea if there will even be a Medicare system when we are old enough to retire.
  • With $3 trillion we could have renovated our decrepit public schools and crumbling public infrastructure, giving us the kind of foundation we need for a thriving nation in the decades to come.
  • With $3 trillion we could have created a national energy grid based not upon environmentally destructive fossil fuels, but upon renewable energy sources–something that our generation cares passionately about.

Our true foes—those endlessly gunning for war—have been waging an economic war against us. Our foes are the ones who say we must increase Pentagon spending while we cut food stamps, unemployment assistance, public transportation, and low-income housing. They are the ones who want to destroy the social safety net that past generations have worked so hard to build. They are the ones who underfund our public schools – which are more segregated today than they were under Jim Crow – and then privatize them. They are the ones who throw hundreds of thousands of young people in prison, thanks to the racist and classist war on drugs, and then privatize the prisons to exploit and profit off of incarcerated citizens who make close-to-zero wages.

Throwing money at war does nothing to address the real issues we face. We, the youth of our country, are the ones who will feel this pain. The cost of war is sucking us dry; it is burdening us with debts we will never be able to pay back.

And war doesn’t even work to create jobs. Politicians say they can’t cut the Pentagon budget because the weapons manufacturers create much-needed jobs. Yes, our generation need jobs. But if members of Congress really wants to use federal spending to help us find employment, the military is the worst investment. A $1 billion investment in military spending nets 11,600 jobs. The same investment in education reaps 29,100 jobs. Whether it’s education, healthcare or clean energy, investments in those sectors create many more job opportunities than the military. The military-industrial complex does a great job lining the pockets of politicians; it does a lousy job creating an economy that works for all.

War does not work from a national security and defense perspective

The war apologists claim war makes our future “safer” and “freer.” But since the tragic 9/11 attack, the US military response has made the world a more dangerous place. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the NATO bombing of Libya, the use of predator drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and countless other examples of military operations have only increased violence and hatred. Iraqis and Afghans are certainly no safer and freer; we are certainly no safer and freer.

We refuse to let our brothers and sisters, both here and abroad, die for access to cheap Persian Gulf oil. The Iraqis, the Afghans, the Iranians, the Libyans, the Somalis, and the people of any other country our military circles like vultures, are not our enemies. They oppose terrorism more than we do; they are the ones who must bear its brunt. We must oppose US intervention not because we don’t care about them, but because we do.

War does not work from an environmental perspective.

War is not environmentally friendly. It never has been, and it never will be. Bombing destroys the environment. It damages forests and agricultural land. It ravages ecosystems, endangering species, even forcing some into extinction.

Bombing contaminates water and soil, often leaving it unsafe to use for centuries, even millennia. This is especially true with nuclear and chemical weapons, such as those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the missiles containing depleted uranium the US used in Iraq. And because of weapons like these, infant mortality, genetic mutation, and cancer rates are exponentially higher in the civilian areas targeted. Children in Fallujah, Iraq, a city hit hard by these weapons, are born without limbs and missing organs.

The environmental costs of war are clearly not limited to isolated moments; they persist for many lifetimes. Heavy military vehicles, in conjunction with deforestation and climate change, lead to the emission of toxic dust from the ground. Even if their homes and livelihoods haven’t been destroyed by bombs, citizens who inhale these toxins are much more susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and health problems.

The US Department of Defense has long been the country’s largest consumer of fossil fuels. Military vehicles consume obscene quantities of oil for even small tasks. If we truly care about reversing, or at least mitigating, anthropogenic climate change—what many scientists recognize as a literal threat to the future of the human species—eliminating war would be an incredibly effective first step.

War does not work from a human rights perspective

The world isn’t any safer and freer for the million Iraqi civilians who died. How is freedom supposed to come at the tip of a bomb?

The debate rages back and forth; “specialists” fill the TV airwaves, repackaging the same tired excuses we’ve heard for years. Most of these “experts” are old white males. The people actually affected by our bombs and our guns–mostly young people of color–are nowhere to be seen. Their voices are silenced, their voices shouted over by the corporate media, by hawkish politicians, and by the profit-hungry military contractors. <

War does not work from a historical perspective

War has never been about freedom and liberation; war has always been about profit and empire. American historian Howard Zinn once said “Wars are fundamentally internal policies. Wars are fought in order to control the population at home.”

Military intervention gives US corporations free reign in the countries we destroy. We bomb the country, targeting public infrastructure, and our corporations build it back up again. Fat cat CEOs make millions, even billions; the country, the people of the country, are left with mountains of debt. Our corporations own their infrastructure, their industrial capital, their natural resources. War is always a lose-lose for the people. Economic and political elite in both countries will make a fortune; the people of both countries will be the ones who have to pay for this fortune.

Defenders and purveyors of war have always done empty lip service to ideals like “freedom” and “democracy”; they have always repeated tired, vacuous tropes about “assisting,” or even “liberating” peoples.

How can we trust a country that says its brutal military invasion and occupation is “humanitarian,” when, at the same moment, it is supporting repressive dictators around the world? Saddam Hussein was on the CIA payroll since the 1960s. While we were invading Iraq to “overthrow tyranny” and “free” the Iraqi people, we were supporting the King Fahd’s theocratic tyranny in Saudi Arabia, the brutally repressive Khalifa family in Bahrain, and Mubarak’s violent regime in Egypt, among countless other unsavory dictators.

When we invaded Afghanistan to “free” the Afghan people from the Taliban, the corporate media failed to mention that Ronald Reagan had supported the Mujahideen, who later became the Taliban, and the Contras throughout the 1980s. He called the latter “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers,” while they were disemboweling civilians in a campaign of terror.

These historical events are absolutely pertinent to contemporary discussions of war. We must learn from them, as to not repeat them in the future, as to not fall for the same past political tricks.

Our naysayers say we are against the troops. We are not against the troops. US troops are disproportionately from less-privileged backgrounds. Military recruiters target impoverished communities of color, and there are many recorded instances of them using deceptive tactics to get young citizens to sign long binding contracts. These are the troops that die in US military operations. They are not our enemies. We refuse to let our brothers and sisters be cannon fodder. The real people against the troops are the ones who send our country’s poor to die in rich people’s wars.

How many times do we have to be lied to, how many times do we have to be tricked, how many times do we have to be exploited until we say enough is enough? We are tired of war! War accomplishes nothing. War only fattens the wallets of economic and political elites, leaving millions dead in its wake. War only leads to more war, destroying the planet and emptying the national treasury in the process.

We, the youth of the United States of America, oppose war.
We oppose war not because we don’t care about the rest of the world; we oppose war precisely because we do.
We oppose war not because we don’t care about our security; we oppose war precisely because we do.
We oppose war not because we don’t care about our troops; we oppose war precisely because we do.
We oppose war not because we aren’t concerned with our future; we oppose war precisely because we do.

As Memorial Day Approaches Honoring Two Black Men Who Deserve Much More Recognition

Saturday, May 24th, 2014
            I have been silent here for many months and it took Amy Goodman’s article in NATION OF CHANGE to motivate me to break the silence.  She has written about two extraordinary men who “helped shape modern history,” in her estimation and until I saw the obituary of William Worthy in the NYTimes last weekend I had never heard of him and until her article I had never heard of Vincent Harding.  Both men, as it turns out, could and perhaps next year will, be in the unit I teach at the Smith College Campus School to my 6th graders entitled, African American Contributors to American Culture.
           We begin the unit by discussing why we continue to need such a unit.  One of the key elements of this conversation is the lack of recognition that many of the men and women the students are about to study have suffered from (heaped on top of the gargantuan obstacles they faced due to race and class) and the price we all pay for their going largely unrecognized by our culture – for white people the perpetuation of the belief that our race has done the lion’s share of what deserves to be acknowledged, a heinous injustice in and of itself that allows racism to flourish and for black people the on-going devaluing of their own absolutely extraordinary racial heritage filled with virtually countless contributors throughout American history.  This latter fall-out results in an even bigger struggle to feel the self-worth every individual deserves to feel based on their heritage.
          We study Denmark Vesey, slave rebellion leader along with such luminaries as Nat Turner and Joseph Cinque (thankfully the underviewed and underappreciated film, “Amistad,” affirms his contribution), Matthew Henson, first man to actually make it to the North Pole, not the least of which was a result of his befriending Inuit people, Charles Drew, inventor of the blood transfusion, Robert Smalls who made a daring escape by sea during the Civil War and went on to serve 5 terms in Congress as a senator from South Carolina and on and on ad infinitum!
          Then today I read about two more.  I will not steal Ms. Goodman’s thunder, so suffice to say that learning that Mr. Harding wrote the speech delivered at Riverside Cathedral by Dr. King a year to the day before his assassination was a revelation.  I have posted about the speech on this very blog without ever knowing about Harding’s role in its creation and I think of it as one of the greatest speeches in American history.  In it King connects so many dots, in particular and most significantly for me personally given my work on CALLED TO SERVE, the seemingly self-evident, but until he spoke it not given its due, truism that racism, classism and war are all inextricably interconnected.  This quote spoke truth to power and no doubt could have contributed mightily to King’s subsequent murder: “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”  In that one sentence King raised the nation’s consciousness about the Vietnam War, its utter devastation of another country and the effects it had on the “war” we should have been fighting then and still need to wage now, to end racism and  poverty amongst our own citizenry.
          That it is Memorial Day tomorrow also feels important to highlight in this post.  So much of the hype that occurs in memorializing those who have fallen ends up being about the sacrifices those who have died have made for the rest of us to be free.  So little is said about what Dr. King via Mr. Harding’s words was conveying in the Riverside Cathedral speech – that so many of those who have died in our wars of conquest and imperialism, were sacrificed so America could extend its sphere of influence and so the 1% and other war profiteers could get even richer, not so we could be free.  Were this ever part of the message, which would give me hope that we could actually stop going to war for all the wrong reasons, then I would feel that there really was a need for such a day.  In the absence of such acknowledgment of our government’s role in the destruction of the very lives we’re honoring as well as the countless millions of lives our obscene wars destroy, displace and devalue, I choose to memorialize such men as William Worthy and Vincent Harding…
          So if you are so inclined, read about two men whose lives made a difference and who, by your reading and sharing their stories, will receive at least some of the recognition they so richly deserve.
WILLIAM WORTHY AND VINCENT HARDING:
THANK-YOU AND GOOD-BYE
by Amy Goodman
The world lost two remarkable men in May, two African-Americans who helped shape modern history, yet whose names and achievements remain too little known. William Worthy, a journalist, died at the age of 92. Civil-rights activist Vincent Harding was 82. Each was a witness to some of the most pivotal events of the latter half of the 20th century. They led their lives speaking truth to power, working for a better world.

William Worthy became a journalist, working for both CBS News and the Baltimore Afro-American. He reported from the Soviet Union and would go to North Vietnam. As a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, he ignored a U.S. ban on traveling to communist China. As a result, the State Department refused to renew Worthy’s passport. He would later travel to Cuba after the revolution there, where he interviewed Fidel Castro. Upon his return, he was charged with entering the U.S. without a passport. He challenged the charges and was eventually cleared. The federal appeals court opinion stated, “It is inherent in the concept of citizenship that the citizen … has a right to return, again to set foot on its soil.” U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy chose not to appeal to the Supreme Court, Worthy said, because “he and his brother [President John F. Kennedy] were sick and tired of the case. They had had enough embarrassment over it.” He was represented by a young ACLU lawyer named William Kunstler, who later noted that the victory in this case inspired him to continue in his path as a pioneering constitutional attorney.

 

 

Vincent Harding was a close friend and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Harding told us on “Democracy Now!,” “King saw the natural connection between what was happening to the poor in the USA, why young men and women were rising up in anger, frustration, desperation, saw that action as deeply related to the attention that the country was paying to the devastation it was doing in Vietnam.” It was on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before King was assassinated, that he delivered a speech drafted by Harding, a powerful statement against the war in Vietnam. Harding said of the speech, “That draft essentially became the speech, sermon, call, cry of the heart that he put forward.” King said that day at New York’s Riverside Church, “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”

 

Vincent Harding sought to reflect in his speechwriting King’s enduring concerns: “He was calling us to a way that was very difficult, a way beyond racism, a way beyond materialism and a way beyond militarism.” Harding continued for decades after King’s death to fight against those very problems, as the first director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center (now known as the King Center) in Atlanta, then as professor of religion and social transformation at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

 

These two men, William Worthy and Vincent Harding, saw immense social upheaval, revolution, struggle and loss. They dedicated their lives to challenging those in power, and to the pursuit of justice and equality for all.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

 

This article was published at NationofChange at: http://www.nationofchange.org/william-worthy-and-vincent-harding-thank-you-and-goodbye-1400937943. All rights are reserved.

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT THE UNACCEPTABLE SUICIDE RATE AMONG VETERANS?

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

It has once again been a considerable passage of time since my last post, but reading the story below about the suicide rate among veterans has deeply moved and saddened me.  I am convinced that the figure of 22 veterans a day taking their own lives is both under-reported, given the limitations of the data gathering, and absolutely unacceptable.  At the same time I have also come to believe that it is yet another effect of war in general and the kind of wars in which we have been engaged since Vietnam.  These are wars that are fought for all the wrong reasons – if there are ever any just wars – that result in soldiers being taught to demonize the enemy, to become numb to atrocities and to have no way to integrate what they’ve witnessed and done with the life they are expected to resume when they return home.  When you add military sexual assault and the attendant stigma along with the underfunded and poorly run veteran’s administration, the statistic of 22 suicides a day becomes much less surprising, but no less disturbing.
Is there anything to  be done?  Certainly a first step is awareness.  That is essentially what has inspired me to break my silence of the last few months.  I came very close to writing a post about an article I’d seen on www.commondreams.org about Obama’s recent reference to American exceptionalism, which rings not just hollowly, but denies our history during the course of which we have made some atrocious mistakes for which we have yet to take full responsibility, including the oppression of Native Americans, black people, women, immigrants, etc…  I see this story in a similar light.  Our misbegotten concept of our exceptionalism is a factor in our refusal to see the terrible error of our way of making war on countries that do not threaten us – pre-emptive wars that become perpetual wars – and the consequences for our national psyche and for our soldiers are catastrophic.  I would turn the word back on itself and us and instead talk about the exceptionally bad decisions that have led to countless injuries and deaths to innocent women, men and children in too many countries where we took it upon ourselves to “fix” governments that we had no business either undermining or propping up while we continue to ignore the exceptionally awful mistreatment of our own people.

The history of these gigantic missteps and the military-industrial-political-media empire(s) that have directed them is incredibly well-documented in James Douglass’s JFK AND THE UNSPEAKABLE that is having a second life as a play written by our own valley treasure, Court Dorsey, who received enormous support from a slew of local social justice activists.  I will hopefully soon post about the significance of Douglass’s and Dorsey’s work, but suffice to say that we have been motivated by selfishness, greed, power and fear for far too long and until and unless there is a sea change we will continue to read about veterans who are so tortured by their military experience that their only way out is to take their own lives.

Why suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day
By Moni Basu, CNN
updated 4:49 AM EDT, Sat September 21, 2013

(CNN) — Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as the number is, it may actually be higher.  The figure, released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February, is based on the agency’s own data and numbers reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. Those states represent about 40% of the U.S. population. The other states, including the two largest (California and Texas) and the fifth-largest (Illinois), did not make data available.

People like Levi Derby, who hanged himself in his grandfather’s garage in Illinois on April 5, 2007. He was haunted, says his mother, Judy Caspar, by an Afghan child’s death. He had handed the girl a bottle of water, and when she came forward to take it, she stepped on a land mine.

When Derby returned home, he locked himself in a motel room for days. Caspar saw a vacant stare in her son’s eyes. A while later, Derby was called up for a tour of Iraq. He didn’t want to kill again. He went AWOL and finally agreed to a dishonorable discharge.Derby was not in the VA system, and Illinois did not send in data on veteran suicides to the VA.

Experts have no doubt that people are being missed in the national counting of veteran suicides. Luana Ritch, the veterans and military families coordinator in Nevada, helped publish an extensive report on that state’s veteran suicides.

Part of the problem, she says, is that there is no uniform reporting system for deaths in America. It’s usually up to a funeral director or a coroner to enter veteran status and suicide on a death certificate. Veteran status is a single question on the death report, and there is no verification of it from the Defense Department or the VA.

“Birth and death certificates are only as good as the information that is entered,” Ritch says. “There is underreporting. How much, I don’t know.”

A homeless person who has no one who can vouch that he or she is a veteran, or others whose families don’t want to divulge a suicide because of the stigma associated with mental illness; they may pressure a state coroner to not list the death as suicide
If a veteran intentionally crashes a car or dies of a drug overdose and leaves no note, that death may not be counted as suicide.

An investigation by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper last year revealed an alarmingly high percentage of veterans who died in this manner in Texas, a state that did not send in data for the VA report.

“It’s very hard to capture that information,” says Barbara van Dahlen, a psychologist who founded Give an Hour, a nonprofit group that pairs volunteer mental-health professionals with combat veterans.

Nikkolas Lookabill had been home about four months from Iraq when he was shot to death by police in Vancouver, Washington, in September 2010. The prosecutor’s office said Lookabill told officers “he wanted them to shoot him.” The case is one of many considered “suicide by cop” and not counted in suicide data.

Carri Leigh Goodwin enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2007. She said she was raped by a fellow Marine at Camp Pendleton and eventually was forced out of the Corps with a personality disorder diagnosis. She did not tell her family that she was raped or that she had thought about suicide. She also did not tell them she was taking Zoloft, a drug prescribed for anxiety.

Her father, Gary Noling, noticed that Goodwin was drinking heavily when she returned home. Five days later, she went drinking with her sister, who left her intoxicated in a parked car. The Zoloft interacted with the alcohol, and she died in the back seat of the car. Her blood alcohol content was six times the legal limit.

Police charged her sister and a friend in Goodwin’s death for furnishing alcohol to an underaged woman: Goodwin was 20. Noling says his daughter intended to drink herself to death. Later, Noling went through Goodwin’s journals and learned about her rape and suicidal thoughts.

A recent analysis by News21, an investigative multimedia program for journalism students, found that the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000. The analysis of records from 48 states found that the suicide rate for veterans increased an average of 2.6% a year from 2005 to 2011 — more than double the rate of increase for civilian suicide.

Nearly one in five suicides nationally is a veteran, even though veterans make up about 10% of the U.S. population, the News21 analysis found.

The authors of the VA study, Janet Kemp and Robert Bossarte, included many cautions about the interpretation of their data, though they stand by the reliability of their findings. Bossarte said there was a consistency in the samples that allowed them to comfortably project the national figure of 22.

But more than 34,000 suicides from the 21 states that reported data to the VA were discarded because the state death records failed to indicate whether the deceased was a veteran. That’s 23% of the recorded suicides from those states. So the study looked at 77% of the recorded suicides in 40% of the U.S. population.

The VA report itself acknowledged “significant limitations” of the available data and identified flaws in its report. “The ability of death certificates to fully capture female veterans was particularly low; only 67% of true female veterans were identified. Younger or unmarried veterans and those with lower levels of education were also more likely to be missed on the death certificate.”
“We think that all suicides are underreported. There is uncertainty in the check box,” says Steve Elkins, the state registrar in Minnesota, which has one of the best suicide data recording systems in the country.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki requested collaboration from all 50 states to improve timeliness and accuracy of suicide reporting, key to improving suicide prevention. At the time the VA released its last suicide report, at least 11 states had not made a decision on data collaboration.

Combat stress is just one reason why veterans attempt suicide. Military sexual assaults are another. Psychologist Craig Bryan says his research is finding that military victims of violent assault or rape are six times more likely to attempt suicide than military non-victims.

More than 69% of all veteran suicides were among those 50 and older. Mental-health professionals said one reason could be that these men give up on life after their children are out of the house or a longtime marriage falls apart. They are also likely to be Vietnam veterans, who returned from war to a hostile public and an unresponsive VA. Combat stress was chalked up to being crazy, and many Vietnam veterans lived with ghosts in their heads without seeking help.

Even though more older veterans are committing suicide, it’s difficult to predict what the toll of America’s newest wars will be. A survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 30% of service members have considered taking their own life, and 45% said they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.

“There’s probably a tidal wave of suicides coming,” says Brian Kinsella, an Iraq war veteran who started Stop Soldier Suicide, a nonprofit group that works to raise awareness of suicide. Between October 2006 and June 2013, the Veterans Crisis Line received more than 890,000 calls. That number does not include chats and texts.

President Barack Obama says there is a need to “end this epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops.” In August 2012, he signed an executive order calling for stronger suicide prevention efforts. A year later, he announced $107 million in new funding for better mental health treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, signature injuries of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

FORGIVENESS AND HEALING

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

I knew I wanted to see the film “The Sapphires” when I heard that it was based on a true story about 4 Australian aboriginal women who entertain U.S.  troops in Vietnam.  Last Saturday night we couldn’t get to Amherst Cinema in time to see the film so we saw “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford’s film of the book with the same title by Neil Gordon about Weather Underground members who go underground after a botched bank robbery ends in the murder of a security guard.  It was a worthwhile film that had echoes of the ’60’s and the anti-war movement as well as an incredible scene featuring Susan Sarandon explaining what motivated her character to join a group advocating ending the war by any means necessary including violence.

In between the two films was “The Draft,” the staged reading of the play based on CALLED TO SERVE.  There were too many highlight moments for me to attempt to chronicle, but Penny Rock journeying from San Francisco to see Peter Snoad’s play was certainly one of the most memorable.  Peter and I got to debrief with her over lunch on Friday following Thursday night’s premiere performance, which played to a full house and received a wonderfully enthusiastic response from the audience and those sending email congratulatory messages.  Penny had many suggestions, but I felt her strongest message was no matter what Peter decides to change based on viewer comments or viewing the videotape courtesy of men’s group member and interview subject, Paul Richmond, he should most assuredly hold onto what the book and play are urging on us all – forgiveness and healing.  The Vietnam War divided our country and those divisions are with us still. The book and play are intended to allow all who read and watch to gain an awareness and ultimately an appreciation for the ways in which we were all victims of the war and the way forward is to recognize the commonality of our experiences, forgive ourselves and one another for what we did and did not do and ultimately continue the healing process that remains so unfinished despite the intervening years.  Penny embodies that work in her own story, which I decided, at the strong urging of my wife Susan who was deeply moved once again by seeing aspects of Penny’s story brought to life in the play, to include in the next version of CALLED TO SERVE.

With such words and thoughts echoing in my mind, watching “The Sapphires” last night provided many new and powerful images having to do with forgiveness and healing.  Without revealing too much, since I strongly urge you to see the film if that is possible in your neck of the woods,  let it suffice to say that there is a moment in the film where a beloved grandparent figure finds it in her heart to welcome a “stolen child,” one who was literally kidnapped by white Austalians who gave themselves license, as was done here in America to our native population, to steal native children, especially light skinned ones, from their homes, communities and cultures in order to raise them in a white world.  The scene where this takes place was overpowering for me.  All of the ways in which our culture has so egregiously failed to welcome our soldiers home, to cleanse them and accept them back into the community, to heal them and affirm them as beloved members of their families, and to forgive them for the awful things they have had to see and do – these failures were what I was keenly aware of as I watched this young woman brought back into the loving embrace of her loved ones.

This is what we must face as a country, community by community.  This film reinforces this fact sensitively and beautifully.

 

 

YET ANOTHER HEIGHT OF ABSURDITY – HONORING A WAR CRIMINAL…

Friday, April 26th, 2013
Yes, I know there are fellow citizens who are quite convinced that honoring George W. Bush with a  library is somehow fitting, but I could not let the event of its opening go by without commenting on how absolutely absurd and disrespectful such an occurrence feels for many others of us around the world.  This article highlights some of the views of those who see Bush and his cronies, Cheney, Rice, Rove, etc… as perpetrators of war crimes – from starting pre-emptive wars to imprisoning suspected terrorists without trials, from killing countless innocent Iraqi and Afghan citizens to torturing others and, perhaps most disturbingly, being honored for such actions when what should be happening is accountability and trials.  I have felt this way since 2002 when the lies that were being told to us overrode 15 million people world-wide desperately seeking to stop the impending war.  Such events as what occurred yesterday, accompanied by the blindness of such organizations as MSNBC, which gets it right so much more often than so many other news programs, brings it all back – the treachery, the deceit, the utter destruction of the lives, homes, culture of the people whose countries our government authorized the destruction of… The words of Thomas Young, the wounded Iraq war veteran who remains in hospice waiting to die, conclude the piece and are both eloquent and haunting:
My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
Published on Thursday, April 25, 2013 by Common Dreams

Celebration in Texas Opens New Library for “War Criminal”

George W. Bush Presidential Center opens on the campus of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas

– Jon Queally, staff writer

George W. Bush Library dedication attended By President Obama And former presidents. (Photo: Getty)Responding to the fawning morning coverage of the opening of the George W. Bush presidential library in Texas Thursday, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill mocked the cable news outlet MSNBC by tweeting:

 

 

“This is such a singular moment,” said MSNBC’s David Gregory in the interlude between the presentation of the First Ladies and the subsequent introduction of President Obama and the former US presidents: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter. “It’s not just pomp and circumstance,” Gregory said as the US Army band rolled drums and the trumpets blared.

The Pledge of Allegiance followed.  Shortly thereafter, former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice took the podium to deliver a series of introductions.

MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews set the frame for the network’s coverage by saying, “No one wants to talk about Iraq on a day like this.” Instead Matthews repeated time and again, what people really wanted to know was what Obama and former first lady Barbara Bush, seated next to one another on stage, were chatting and giggling about.

As the ordered ceremony continued—with each former President taking turns with a few remarks—anti-war activists proved Matthews wrong by utilizing the official #bushcenter hashtag to voice their opposition to the Bush legacy and calling the former president a ‘war criminal’:

The library, officially called the George W. Bush Presidential Center, is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas and was designed to honor—critics argue ‘to re-write’—the legacy of the former US president whose administration led the country into two foreign wars, opened the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as a way to avoid judicial oversight of detainee treatment, initiated rendition and torture programs within a global network of CIA-run black site facilities, oversaw the creation of a vast national surveillance apparatus, and ushered in the largest financial crisis of the modern era.

Outside the event, more than 200 peace activists protested behind police barricades against what they called Bush’s “crimes against humanity”.

In an interview with USA Today earlier this week, George W. Bush repeated what he has often said about his legacy by remarking, “I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.”

For many, however, that judgement deserves no further delay.

Asked in an interview to suggest what the world should remember about the Bush legacy, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange responded by saying:

A good place to start would be laying out the number of deaths caused by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. At Wikileaks, we documented that from 2004-2009, the US had records of over 100,000 individual deaths of Iraqis due to violence unleashed by that invasion, roughly 80% of them civilians. These are the recorded deaths, but many more died. And in Afghanistan, the US recorded about 20,000 deaths from 2004-2010. These would be good facts to include in the presidential library.

And perhaps the library could document how people around the world protested against the invasion of Iraq, including the historic February 15, 2003 mobilization of millions of people around the globe.

And Common Dreams contributors Jodie Evans and Charles Davis write on Thursday:

George W. Bush presided over an international network of torture chambers and, with the help of a compliant Congress and press, launched a war of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. However, instead of the bloody details of his time in office being recounted at a war crimes tribunal, the former president has been able to bank on his imperial privilege – and a network of rich corporate donors that he made richer while in office – to tell his version of history at a library in Texas being opened in his name.

Kill a few, they call you a murderer. Kill tens of thousands, they give you $500 million for a granite vanity project and a glossy 30-page supplement in the local paper.

They concluded:

Bush’s legacy is reflected not in his library, but in the regular bombings that rock Baghdad, killing dozens at a time. The Connecticut blue blood turned straight talkin’ Texan is of course welcome to tell his side of the story. That’s only fair. But let him do it at the Hague.

Last month, on the tenth anniversay of the start of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, wounded Iraq war veteran Thomas Young, who remains in hospice waiting to die, wrote an open letter to Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney which included:

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Ending his letter, Young wrote to Bush:

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

Back in Texas on Thursday, just as Bush closed his remarks at the library’s opening ceremony, a tear caught his eye and he swallowed a sob as he returned to his seat. There was no apology for the war, the many deaths, or torture. There was no confession or acknowledgement of sin or error.  The military band rose to perform “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” as the other presidents, their wives, and the crowd sang and applauded.

_

Now that Women Serve in Combat, Do We Need a Draft to Avoid War?

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Charles Rangel sure thinks so and I have to confess, given our track record since Vietnam with an all-volunteer army fighting our awful and unnecessary wars, perhaps he’s right.  I am certainly torn when it comes to imagining a re-instated draft that requires all young Americans to serve their country in either military or civilian roles for 2 years.  Remembering the anti-war movement that was very connected to the draft during Vietnam and how our government responded got easier for me this week, since I have been watching the incredibly powerful Oliver Stone series, “UNKNOWN HISTORY OF THE U.S.” and the last episode (#7) I watched Friday morning before school was all about the war.

Arguments continue to this day as to whether it was the degree to which the draft affected so many of my generation that gave rise to such a movement and whether that movement caused Nixon and his cronies to question our endless seeming involvement in that “mistake,” as John Kerry, now Secretary of State, called it.  But if there was more “shared sacrifice” as Rangel describes it, would Bush’s administration have thought twice before beginning the horrific wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Pentagon is now obligated to consider whether women upon turning 18 will have to do as their male counterparts have been doing and register with the armed services.  Rangel wants this country’s leaders to much more deeply examine what they are doing when they support such grand mistakes as the two wars Bush and co. began and he feels if they were obliged to consider the effects on a much broader swath of the population, they’d be much less likely to rush us into war.  If he’s correct then I could support such a draft…

Rangel wants women to be drafted

By Geneva Sands – 02/15/13 10:11 AM ET
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) on Friday said he plans to introduce legislation that would bring back the military draft and extend it to women for the first time.

Rangel, who has pushed for years to bring back the draft, said the Pentagon’s decision to allow women to serve in combat means that they too should register for the Selective Service.

“Now that women can serve in combat they should register for the Selective Service alongside their male counterparts,” Rangel said in a statement. “Reinstating the draft and requiring women to register for the Selective Service would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation. We must question why and how we go to war, and who decides to send our men and women into harm’s way.”

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order rescinding the ban on women serving in combat units last month, potentially opening up as many as 237,000 positions to female service members.

The move raised a number of policy issues, including whether women will now be required to register with the Selective Service. The Pentagon is required to report on how changing the ban effects the constitutionality of the registration being males only.

In an interview on MSNBC, Rangel said the draft should be reinstated because the majority of Americans make “no real sacrifice” when the country goes to war.

“The Congress never gets a chance to vote up and down on these war questions. Every president just puts our kids in harm’s way and we just foot the bill, but there’s no real sacrifice in what’s going on. Less than 1 percent of American families are involved in the military and they really pay the price for it,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

He argued that a draft would make the executive branch think long and hard before sending troops overseas.

“Take my word for it, if every time a president was about to put our kids in harm’s way, we we’re thinking about our kids and grandkids, it just wouldn’t happen,” he said.

Rangel’s legislation would require those between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform two years of national service in either the armed services or in civilian life, while the All American Selective Service Act would force women to enroll in the Selective Service System.

“If this country has its security threatened, I would like to believe that all of us, no matter how old we are, would want to do something.”


Read more: http://thehill.com/video/house/283387-rangel-to-introduce-legislation-to-reinstating-the-draft-#ixzz2L9fphNVC

WHY WOMEN SERVING IN COMBAT IS NOT WHAT OUR NATION NEEDS

Friday, January 25th, 2013
I’ve been feeling uneasy ever since it was announced that women could now serve in combat and I have been trying to find the words to express my feeling of trepidation.  I knew that what the world really needs is for there to be fewer men having to fight our wars of empire so hearing that women were now being allowed to do our dirty work in other countries was far from comforting, but when I read the article below by Lucinda Marshall, I knew that my recent silence needed to be broken.  She frames this development so well in terms of the ways in which the military exploits poor men and women, especially those of color, and in terms of the fact that women have more to fear from sexual assault by their fellow soldiers than they do from any enemy.  These issues will no doubt be pushed even further out of public awareness and scrutiny as we now celebrate this supposed breakthrough for women.  BUt we should all beware as Ms. Marshall quotes a women’s advocacy group from their FACEBOOK page:
“We do not celebrate sending us women overseas to kill other women and children in someone else’s name.”  Until and unless we begin to seriously address the economic and cultural problems that have lead to the “poverty draft” that provides a significant number of “volunteers” and the mistreatment of women by their male counterparts, so-called equality on the battlefield is simply a cover for the real issues that have largely been ignored or downplayed as patriotism and empire hold sway.  Here’s what Ms. Marshall says about the true nature of our government’s attitude towards women:
“And let’s face it, we live in a country where Congress just failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act and where we still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment and the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  The disrespect of women’s rights, safety and well-being is a de facto national policy in the U.S.”

Published on Friday, January 25, 2013 by Common Dreams

Why Serving In Combat Does Not Serve Women (Or Anyone Else) Well

by Lucinda Marshall

Crucial as it is for women to have the same opportunities and benefits as men who do comparable work, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s announcement that women can now serve in combat positions in the military should not be misconstrued as a step forward for women. Lt. Col. Tamatha Patterson of the Army with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times)

As the women’s rights advocacy group AF3IRM GABNET said in a statement on their Facebook page,

The Pentagon lifted a ban on women in combat, stating that women can now serve on the frontlines. We in AF3IRM know that this is already common practice and that women of color and transnational women are already disproportionately over-represented in the US military. They are pushed into military duty due to poverty and lack of other options.

We do not celebrate this new “elimination of a gender-based barrier.” We do not celebrate sending us women overseas to kill other women and children in someone else’s name. (emphasis mine)

According to a study by the PEW Research Center, women now make up 14% of the enlisted ranks and 16% of the officer ranks.  A look at the racial breakdown of those numbers is instructive,

While 71% of active-duty men are white (including white Hispanics), only about half of active-duty women (53%) are white. The share of white women in the military is also significantly smaller than their proportion in the civilian female population ages 18-44 (78%).

More than three-in-ten (31%) military women are black (including black Hispanics). This is almost twice the share of active-duty men who are black (16%), as well as more than twice the proportion of civilian women ages 18-44 who are black (15%). In addition, more women in the active-duty force than men in the active-duty force and civilian women ages 18-44 are of mixed racial background or some other race.3

The share of Hispanics among women and men in the armed forces is similar (13% vs. 12%, respectively), and the share of military women who are Hispanic is smaller than that of Hispanic women ages 18-44 in the U.S. civilian population (16%). But the number of Hispanics enlisting in the active-duty force each year has risen significantly over the last decade. In 2003, Hispanic women and men made up 11.5% of the new enlistees to the military; just seven years later, in 2010, they made up 16.9% of non-prior service enlisted accessions.

Further,

More than eight-in-ten post-9/11 female veterans say they joined to serve their country or receive education benefits (83% and 82%, respectively). Fully 70% say they joined to see more of the world and almost as many (67%) say they joined to gain job skills.

However, there is one key difference in the reasons that men and women joined the military. Some 42% of female veterans say they joined the military because jobs were hard to find, compared with one-quarter of men.

The take away here should be that we need to take a good hard look at the ways in which we are failing these women in regard to job training and job availability in the civilian world because as it stands now, we are effectively asking the most disenfranchised among us to fight our wars, and this move only makes it more dangerous for them, regardless of rank and benefits.

So yes, equal rights and benefits are necessary, but not at the expense of condoning a system that requires us to kill and destroy for empire and perpetuates a myriad of harms against women, against men too, and against Mother Earth.

It is also hugely ironic that Panetta’s announcement came the same day that Congress was holding yet another hearing on the intractable problem of sexual assault in the military.  The truth is that women are more likely to be attacked by other members of our military than by any enemy.  The New York Times’ Gail Collins makes the unfortunate suggestion that having more women rise in the ranks might,

make things better because it will mean more women at the top of the military, and that, inevitably, will mean more attention to women’s issues.

Sexual assault in the military is not a woman’s issue.  It is an epidemic and a national disgrace that is a direct result of the misguided notion of militarism that posits that strength comes from asserting power over others.  Militarism has never been good for women because, among other reasons, it places them in harms way by armies that rape and assault women as a de facto military strategy and because women are more likely to become refugees, unable to support themselves or take care of their families and placing them in further danger of physical and sexual attack.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also makes the argument that more equality will lead to more respect and hence less sexual assault in the ranks, but the military is still a top-down power over structure and women who do serve in lower ranks will continue to be vulnerable.  And let’s face it, we live in a country where Congress just failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act and where we still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment and the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  The disrespect of women’s rights, safety and well-being is a de facto national policy in the U.S.

It is being said that drafting women will inevitably follow and I am not in favor of that any more than I think drafting men is a good thing.  Let’s be honest about the mission of the U.S. military.  It isn’t to defend this country, there hasn’t been a war for that purpose in my lifetime.  Instead we have repeatedly engaged in military operations for the sole purpose of asserting empire and domination.

If the purpose of the military was truly to defend the citizens of this country and make it strong, they would be protecting women from violence in their own ranks and in every city in this country.  They would be building up our shorelines to protect us from the inevitable further flooding of climate change.  They would be re-building our tattered roads and utilities and installing solar panels so that we do not depend on  non-renewable resources (of which incidentally they are one of the biggest users).

But instead, our military serves as the global bully, taking swings at whomever we don’t like at at any particular moment, with little heed to the negative impact that has on us all.  And every time there is a war, civilian women who live where the war is being fought are victimized.  And here at home more money is poured into the military while social services, education and health care are desperately underfunded and for poor women and women of color we perpetuate the cycle that propels them to join the military for reasons such as getting an education and job training.

So yes, equal rights and benefits are necessary, but not at the expense of condoning a system that requires us to kill and destroy for empire and perpetuates a myriad of harms against women, against men too, and against Mother Earth.  That is a false and harmful premise of equality that we must reject.

Copyright © 2013 Lucinda Marshall
Lucinda Marshall

Lucinda Marshall is the Founder and Director of the Feminist Peace Network, http://www.feministpeacenetwork.org.  She is the author of the FPN blog as well as Reclaiming Medusa, http://www.lucindamarshall.com.

A DAUGHTER HEALS FROM HER FATHER’S VIETNAM WAR PTSD

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

It’s been almost 3 months since my last post – months spent watching our supposedly democratic country dealing with an election season characterized by too much money being spent to promote far too much dishonesty and hypocrisy while the War in Afghanistan disappears into the nether reaches of newspapers and the effects of over 10 years of war on our soldiers, our veterans and their families becomes a sideshow.  I have not been inspired to add my voice to the clutter of voices – until this evening, this first evening of the sun setting too soon on a spectacularly beautiful autumn day.  I have spent it feeling thankful that my family was not seriously impacted by Hurricane Sandy and I contributed to the Red Cross relief efforts to help those whose lives will never be the same.  I also spent some time this afternoon reading the story my daughter, Maddie, my hero for her work in a special education high school in the South Bronx, sent Susan and me about the latest recipient of a “Blissful Bedroom” makeover.  His name is Omar and here is his situation and why he is receiving a makeover of the room he shares with his 11 year old brother:

Omar is a very sweet, loving and expressive young man who is 20 years of age. He is challenged with cerebral palsy which makes him reliant on a wheelchair for mobility and completely dependent on others for all activities of daily living, such as eating, transitioning, bathing, toileting, dressing, etc.

Maddie is part of a small group of educators who have taken it upon themselves to re-decorate the bedrooms of young people whose lives are incredibly challenging and you can see a remarkable short film about Omar here:

http://blissfulbedrooms.org/omars-bedroom-makeover/

There is a song sung at Passover entitled, “Dayenu,” which means, “It Would Have Been Enough,” and truthfully either let alone both of these afternoon pastimes would have been sufficient for me to emerge from my silence to write about, but then I found the story which gives this post its title.  I have often wondered how those who are the children of Vietnam veterans have been affected by their parents’ service and I have certainly had some encounters with some who have been deeply impacted, but I definitely felt like my consciousness was raised when I read the story that follows.  Christal Presley has written a book, THIRTY DAYS WITH MY FATHER, that chronicles her own desperate journey through the PTSD she inherited from her father’s year-long service in Vietnam.  It is a harrowing article about what is surely a very difficult book to read, but one that I feel should be required reading for all politicians who will ever face having to decide whether to send young men and women to war.  The last part of the article when Christal tells about meeting the daughter of an Iraq War veteran who suffers from PTSD is riveting and tragic as the same type of trauma that characterized her childhood is occurring with this young child.  This is what the focus of the election should be addressing and until and unless we have such candidates I fear we are bound to keep fighting useless wars with countless casualties.

A daughter faces demons of father’s war

By Moni Basu, CNN

updated 10:56 AM EST, Sun November 4, 2012

It took Christal Presley many years to understand how a war that took place before she was even born had marred her life. Her father, Delmer Presley, was traumatized by a yearlong tour of Vietnam, which in turn affected Christal.

>>

(CNN) — Inside a trailer in Honaker, Virginia, is a 5-year-old girl who loves lemon-lime slush. She sleeps in a room with a quilted bedspread and matching purple curtains. She adores her cat Tiger, dogs Smoky and Rusty and a black, pop-eyed goldfish.

Her family is poor, and she is eating potted meat, blowing away cracker crumbs that fall into her lap.

“Daddy,” she whispers when her father, a welder, comes home. He does not respond. His eyes are wild. He collapses into a rocking chair, his hands trembling, his breathing labored.

She doesn’t understand her father’s strange behavior. It’s as though he’s in the grip of the devil.

She hides behind the couch, her knees press against the shag carpeting.

Later, she will remember this moment as the first time she was afraid of her father.

A hole in her soul

Christal Presley, 34, held her breath for two seemingly endless days in mid-October. In Honaker, more than 300 miles away from her home in Atlanta, her father had just received a package in the mail. It contained an early copy of Christal’s new book. On the cover: a sepia-tone snapshot of Delmer Presley holding his rifle in Vietnam.

Christal had staked her whole life on words crafted from love and pain. But what would they mean to her father?

 

Delmer Presley, Christal Presley’s father, was drafted before his 19th birthday and served a year in Vietnam.

Would they offer comfort like the conversations that resulted in the book? Or would they act as another trigger point for a man who never left war behind?

“Thirty Days With My Father” is a gritty memoir written by a woman haunted by what some psychologists describe as second-generation post-traumatic stress disorder.

The trauma began in Vietnam, affected Delmer and then, Christal, says psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, a trauma expert who served on the committee that defined PTSD in the post-Vietnam era.

Christal, he says, suffered profound injury. And it stayed with her.

Outwardly, her life appeared successful: She settled in Atlanta, owned a house, worked as an educator.

But she always felt a hole in her soul. She didn’t know her father — or herself.

How was it, she wondered, that a war that ended before her birth had marred her life in so many ways?

The book became Christal’s salvation — “my last resort to find happiness,” she says.

But she worried about how her father would feel seeing his troubled life exposed to the entire world. Encourage him to read the ending first, she told her mom. That way, he will understand: It’s not just an ugly portrait of pain. It’s a book about healing.

 

Christal grew up affected by the post-traumatic stress disorder that her father suffered after fighting in Vietnam.

Wishing for normal

Christal was only 5, but she remembers clearly that day when her family came undone. Her father, on his way home from work, had come upon an accident on the highway. His friend, Josh Coleman, was dead.

It was the first time Delmer had seen a body since he returned from his yearlong tour of duty. Thirteen years had passed, but instantly, his mind reeled back to Vietnam: to underground tunnels brimming with snakes and booby traps laced with sharp punji sticks that skewered his buddies like meat.

Christal never knew normal again.

Gone was the man who gave her piggyback rides, ate mud pies and smiled as he watched her play an angel in a school play.

Delmer vacillated between depression, silence and sheer rage.

He locked himself in the bedroom his wife had decorated with shadow boxes filled with Delmer’s medals, Army boots, hats, dog tags and a worn pocket-size military-issue Bible. The room screamed war, Christal says. She was scared to enter.

At Christmas, Delmer never watched Christal open presents. She could hear him playing music in his room.

She learned to resent the guitar her father loved so much. She wished he would spend time with her, speak to her, seek solace in her.

When a truck backfired or Christal dropped a plate by accident, her father leaped up and went into soldier-at-war mode. Christal hated going out to eat at noisy restaurants — everyone just stared.

The worst moments came when he picked up his shotgun and left the house for Little River, announcing to Christal and her mother, Judy, that he was going to kill himself.

As time passed, Christal forgot the daddy she’d once known.

Judy, a Pentecostal Christian, believed you had to be perfect to reach heaven and kept the family’s struggles secret.

Christal pretended to the outside world that their life was normal.

Once when she was 6, she stole a neighbor’s photo of a family trip to the beach. She cut the family’s smiling faces out and replaced them with pictures of herself and her mom and dad. She showed the doctored photo off in class, describing for her classmates what a great time they’d had.

Leaving a war zone

Ironically, it was Delmer’s trauma that enabled Christal to escape her parents’ home.

Until then, every birthday had not been a celebration as much as it was a countdown to the day she’d turn 18 and be able to leave.

The federal government paid for her schooling at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. That’s because by then, the Army had declared her father 100% disabled.

When Delmer returned from Vietnam in 1970, psychiatrists were just starting to recognize PTSD as an impairment. The first diagnosis for Vietnam veterans did not occur until 1980 when Christal was 2.

Veterans weren’t encouraged to seek help, like they are these days. “My dad just thought he was going crazy.”

As frightening as it was for Christal to leave Honaker and be alone for the first time, she felt liberated.

“I was so tired of living in a war zone,” she says. “I really thought my father ruined my life.”

As a girl, she had taken a razor from her mother’s sewing kit and sliced her skin open. She cut herself with an ink pen and stapled her hands.

Hurting herself was a way to be close to her dad. He was in such pain, she thought, that she would be, too.

In college, she mixed anti-depressants with rum and tequila and drank alone. She wanted to numb herself like PTSD sufferers do.

She had her father’s eyes — and his behavior. Severe mood swings. Anxiety. She was hypersensitive to sounds. She stood back and skimmed the crowd in a room, looking for the quickest exit. She was private, reserved. She didn’t trust people.

She told Delmer she hated him.

She went through boyfriend after boyfriend, craving a man’s touch, looking for the affection her father had never shown.

She dreaded driving back home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. As she approached winding John Douglas Wayside in Abingdon and began her climb up the Virginia mountains, she had flashbacks.

She saw herself as a child wrapped tightly around Delmer’s legs, trying to prevent him from going down to the river to kill himself. Or lying on her bed, curled into a fetal ball.

In college, she saw a therapist regularly and didn’t speak to her father, except peripherally, for 13 years. In that time, she came to understand that her troubles were related to his.

“My father got that way from being in Vietnam,” Christal says. “I got it from being around him.”

 

A baby Christal sits on Delmer’s lap. He found solace in his music and would sometimes play the guitar eight hours a day.

Thirty days

After college and teaching jobs and a brief marriage, Christal settled in Atlanta. But she ventured in several directions in search of an inner peace: to holy sites in the Indian Himalayas, to the halls of academia, where she earned a doctorate in education.

Always, she came up empty.

She’d begun writing as a way to understand herself, and work through her problems. One day, her coach in a writing group challenged her to take on the subject she feared most. Her father.

She decided to ask Delmer if he would participate in a series of conversations about Vietnam. Just in case things became unbearable, she set a time limit for her project: 30 days. She could stand anything as long as an end was in sight.

She was sure Delmer would refuse. Why would he speak about it now when he had kept it to himself for almost four decades?

When Delmer said yes, Christal was taken aback. She had been so certain he would not participate that she didn’t even know how to begin.

The first few conversations were strained. Delmer sounded suspicious.

But by Day Four, he was telling her how he got a draft letter just before his 19th birthday.

“It was after the Tet Offensive, the worst time to be drafted,” Delmer said. The surprise North Vietnamese military campaign is considered the turning point of the war.

“America saw right then that this wasn’t going to be a fast war,” he said. “The American people went berserk, turned against their own. They stopped supporting the war, hated us soldiers like devils.”

Christal was humbled by her father’s words. And appalled to learn of the public scorn. Such a thing would never happen today, she thought.

The conversations continued day by day, through the end of 2009.

Delmer talked about Agent Orange, the defoliant that rained down on the jungle from U.S. planes. He blames it for a tumor he developed in his right lung and cysts on his fingers.

He told her he placed men he knew in body bags for their final journey home. She asked whether he was in My Lai when U.S. soldiers were ordered to wipe out the village — unarmed civilians, including women and children. Delmer told her he was not but that he was ordered to pull guard the day Pentagon authorities went in to investigate.

Christal had read about My Lai. She told her father that 500 bodies were found. “You are wrong about that,” Delmer said. “There were 504.”

Christal had not known her father’s anguish until then — the moments he relived, the guilt he felt for surviving.

With two months left in Vietnam, Delmer welcomed another young soldier to his platoon. The commanders made Delmer trade places with the newbie, who was placed at the front of the line in their battlefield maneuvers.

 

Christal’s mother, Judy, was embarrassed by the family’s struggles and urged her daughter to keep them secret.

The soldier stepped on a booby trap.

Delmer never came to terms with the soldier’s death. He knew the young man had a newborn daughter he had never seen. Delmer lay awake at night thinking: “It should have been me.”

When her father shared that story, Christal was silent on the phone. She’d thought of her dad as a guy pointing a gun — not as someone who suffered.

The most important review

Days after sending a copy of her book to her father, Christal met a woman who wanted to write about her project for a blog called Family Of A Vet. They talked over lunch at Tin Lizzy’s restaurant near downtown Atlanta.

The woman’s husband did three tours of Iraq and is disabled by PTSD and traumatic brain injury. She takes care of him and her three young children.

Daughter Caitlin, 9, had come along. Christal was talking about her 30-day project when Caitlin piped up.

“Christal,” she said. “My mommy says your daddy was in a war, too.”

“Yes, a long time ago, my daddy was in a war called Vietnam,” Christal told her. “Miss Christal,” said Caitlin. “Were you scared of your daddy like I am scared of mine? My daddy yells a lot and I go into my room and hide.”

“Caitlin,” said Christal. “Sometimes when someone comes back from war, they can’t help themselves. Like a baby who cries.”

Christal had always thought her father was distant and detached because he didn’t love her. She always thought it was her fault.

“Yeah, because they’ve seen bad things,” Caitlin said.

Christal had spoken with other grown children of Vietnam veterans. But this was the first time she saw herself in a child.

Christal contained herself in front of Caitlin. But when she and her mom drove away after lunch, Christal burst into tears.

It was a week before her book launch. Christal had a calendar chock-full of media interviews. She was confident that veteran communities would welcome her book. She was less sure about her father.

It took him two days to finish reading.

The phone rang, finally, on a Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s a good book, Christal,” Delmer told her.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“Yes, I do.”

No other review was going to matter.

In his footsteps

Along a living room wall in Christal’s home in Atlanta stands a case containing a new Alvarez guitar. Delmer bought it for her three years ago, the first time they spent Christmas together after the 30-day project.

She’d told him she wanted to learn how to play. She knows that without his music, her father might be dead.

It kept him going after he couldn’t work anymore. It was like an extra limb. Sometimes he played for eight hours a day. He loves Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Stanley. War songs. Even wrote one himself.

“Having the guitar here makes me feel like a part of my father is here,” she says.

He sketched out chords for her on pieces of white paper, but Christal has been so busy finishing her book, she hasn’t had time to learn. Soon, she says, she will.

The guitar is not the only talisman in her home tying Christal to her father. Inside a small silver urn is a piece of a sandbag. The color is still a vivid sky blue. Next to it is a piece of asphalt.

She found them in Vietnam.

After the series of talks with her father, Christal felt compelled to go to Vietnam, to Chu Lai, down Route 1, to the place the Americans called LZ (landing zone) Bayonet, to the fire base known as Fat City.

Soldier’s Heart, an organization that supports veterans and their families suffering from psychological wounds, made the trip possible.

She climbed the slope of the landing pad where her father had slept. She gazed at a trench overgrown with grass and yellow wildflowers. The mountains behind her must have been where a young Delmer schlepped through thick jungle with a gun in his hand and a radio strapped to his back.

She could still see tank tracks embedded in the asphalt. And boot prints. Christal stepped inside, Vietnam surging through her body.

She felt ashamed she had treated her father the way she had. If only she could go back in time.

Delmer felt the same way.

He told her he locked himself away because he didn’t want to hurt her.

“I let her down,” he says. “It’s my fault. I didn’t realize I was hurting anyone.”

One time, he was frantic on the phone with Christal. He hadn’t burned any villages or killed any people, he told her as though someone were accusing him.

She no longer thought him crazy.

She told him he’s the bravest person she knows. She is sorry she couldn’t see that earlier.

“I forgive you. I forgive myself,” Christal told him.

Delmer says he’s happy, at least, that before he hangs up the phone with Christal these days, he can say: “I love you.”

Survivors

There is a temple in Vietnam, lush with ponds and trees with branches hanging low.

Outside, merchants sell birds, turtles and fish. Christal learns that people buy them and set them free in the temple, in accordance with the Eastern belief of the eternal nature of the soul.

She thinks back on a childhood fishing trip with her father. The fish she caught swallowed the hook and worm whole. It bled through the gills and gasped for life. “She’s dying,” Christal howled, begging Delmer to save it.

Delmer was calm, confident. He cut the line, freed the fish and assured her it would live. It struggled for a few seconds and then dived deep into the water.

Christal thinks now her father is like that fish — a survivor.

It is the day before she is to leave Vietnam and journey home. She steps forward, peers at the bags of goldfish for sale. One is black, like the fish she had in her aquarium as a little girl. That’s the one she chooses.

She walks over to the pond, opens the bag and watches the fish swim away.

 

VETERANS FOR PEACE SPEAK OUT – NO WAR IN IRAN!!!

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

It’s been over two months since my last post and it’s not been because little of consequence has been occurring.  I have embarked upon a new book project and for a month my daughter, Annabel, and her three children – my beloved grandchildren – were visiting and I was devoting most waking moments to being with them.  The new project is about men’s and women’s support groups – their purpose, function and role in the lives of their members over time as well as scholarly chapters about where such groups fit in the history of the women’s and men’s movements.

I have certainly thought of posting on numerous occasions the most recent of which was in response to the beyond heinous words of Todd Akin, Republican from Missouri, who spoke of “legitimate rape” this week.  So many folks have called him out for his hateful and ignorant statement that I let that one go, but this piece about the possibility of our government entering into yet another insane war grabbed my attention this afternoon.  That it is written by a woman veteran who tells why there is such an organization as VETERANS FOR PEACE was added incentive to share it with whomever chooses to partake.

Know that she is also castigating our country for the punishing sanctions on the people of Iran.  In Iraq she reminds us that the toll of the sanctions that lasted for so many years preceding the Iraq War was 500,000 children killed according to the U.N.  By imposing our will on a populace are we not sowing the seeds of yet another generation of people who hate the U.S.?  Are we not making war inevitable by driving a deeper wedge between their government, admittedly under the influence of some very disturbing characters, and ours?

Leah Bolger continues in the tradition of telling it like it is as she addresses her plaintive call to the leaders of non-aligned nations who are meeting in Tehran this week.  She implores them to do whatever they possibly can to prevent the U.S. and Israel making war on Iran and I join her and her organization, which she tells us began in 1985 “to bring an end to war,” in their efforts to head off the next one.  It frightens me terribly to think that it may already be too late.  She writes:

We Veterans For Peace know what war is like. President Obama does not. His political advisers also do not. Besides, their attention is fixed almost exclusively on the upcoming presidential election.

What is most dangerous is that the White House threat/mantra that all options, expressly including the “military option,” are on the table is seen by Israeli leaders as tantamount to a pledge that Obama will feel forced to honor, giving them carte blanche for attacking Iran, with the full expectation of U.S. military support.

Thankfully people of conscience like Leah are determined to keep trying…

 

Veterans for Peace Appeals for Peace, Not War on Iran

Group appeals to the leaders of non-aligned nations, a group of states considering themselves not aligned formally with or against any major power bloc, to prevent military attack on Iran

by Leah Bolger

This is an urgent appeal from Veterans For Peace. We are an organization of U.S. veterans formed in 1985 to try to bring an end to war. VFP is a non-profit organization recognized by the UN as an NGO.

We are appealing to the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement to do everything in your power to head off a military attack on Iran in the coming weeks. Israel’s leaders regard the period between now and the U.S. election on November 6 as the most opportune time to virtually guarantee U.S. support for such an attack. And the continuing build-up of U.S. forces in the area of the Persian Gulf strengthens the impression of U.S. readiness to provide it.

As you non-aligned leaders meet later this week in Tehran, it seems time for plain speaking — and warning. Official statements by Israel and the U.S. assert, with cavalier nonchalance, that the “military option” against Iran is “on the table.”

Thus, Israel and the U.S. are, de facto, in open violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, which prohibits not only the use of force but also the threat to use force against a country from which there is no imminent danger. Sadly, after such threats it can be a short step to the actual use of force, as we observed in the lead-up to the illegal attack on Iraq in March 2003.

The U.S. corporate-owned media is highlighting the same kind of “fixed” intelligence and facts used exactly ten years ago to “justify” the attack on Iraq. Even though in January both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, acknowledged that Iran is NOT working on a nuclear weapon, military action is still being blithely promoted as one option to deal with Iran’s “nuclear ambitions.”

We Veterans For Peace know what war is like. President Obama does not. His political advisers also do not. Besides, their attention is fixed almost exclusively on the upcoming presidential election.

What is most dangerous is that the White House threat/mantra that all options, expressly including the “military option,” are on the table is seen by Israeli leaders as tantamount to a pledge that Obama will feel forced to honor, giving them carte blanche for attacking Iran, with the full expectation of U.S. military support.

Veterans For Peace has been trying to warn about the mounting threat to Iran, but our warnings have been kept out of the U.S. corporate-owned media. Six months ago we sent an official memorandum to President Obama warning him that he needed to “talk sense to [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu.”

More recently, at the conclusion of our national conference on August 12th, we issued this statement:

“We reaffirm our solidarity with the Iranian people and urge the United States to lift the economic sanctions that were imposed on Iran. These sanctions are an act of war and are hurting the people of Iran. We demand that our own government stop its threats of war and we implore President Obama to state publicly and very clearly to Israel that the United States will not support an attack on Iran.”

Most Israelis and most Americans do not want war with Iran. As for the harsh sanctions on Iran, it is only the rhetoric of the governments in Tel Aviv and Washington and the parroting corporate media that have misled so many into thinking that sanctions against Iran are needed and morally justified.

Nonaligned countries are aware, better than most, of the suffering incurred by the imposition of such measures. Sanctions against Iran are no more justified than the ones imposed earlier on Iraq, which caused the deaths of at least 500,000 children under the age of five, according to the U.N.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops denounced that death toll as “unconscionable” in a formal statement on November 14, 2001. Madeleine Albright, in contrast, when she was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said she thought the toll was “worth it.” Sadly, that kind of thinking still prevails in the Obama administration.

The stringent economic sanctions imposed on Iran are equally unconscionable. And a military attack on Iran would be a flagrant violation of international law.

This is not a time to sit on the sidelines and watch events unfold. Accordingly, we appeal to the leaders of non-aligned nations about to meet this week in Tehran to move swiftly to do what they can to head off any military attack on Iran and to take a strong position against the economic sanctions.

In peace,

Leah Bolger, CDR, USN, (Ret)

President, Veterans For Peace

Leah Bolger spent 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy and retired in 2000 at the rank of Commander.  She is currently a full-time peace activist and serves as the President of Veterans For Peace.

A Spiritual Test to Serve in the Military! Are You Kidding? If only…

Monday, June 11th, 2012

I had read about the Army’s test of spirituality earlier last week, so it was with great interest that I read Rev. Andrea Ayvazian’s piece about the test in her guest column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette this past Saturday.  I had felt quite appalled at the idea that the military felt it was necessary, as a means of discovering who was most fit to serve, to administer such an evaluation of one’s belief system.  That it was comprehensively biased against those without a belief in God was no surprise, nor that the test is being challenged in court as unconstitutional, but I was moved by Rev. Ayvazian’s take on the test and wrote a response to her piece.  Below you will find her thoughtful comments as well as my response.

Andrea Ayvazian: Armed with spirituality?

By Daily Hampshire Gazette
Created 06/09/2012 – 5:00am

HAYDENVILLE – The U.S. Army has made the big mistake of creating a “Spiritual Fitness” test to assess a soldier’s spiritual depth and readiness to serve in the military. The consequences of failing this test are dire. And by instituting this Spiritual Fitness test, the Army is treading on shaky theological ground.

The Spiritual Fitness test is part of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, a $125 million “holistic fitness program” begun in 2009 with the aim of reducing the alarmingly high rate of suicides and stress-related disorders experienced by soldiers. The CSF measures a soldier’s fitness level in five areas: emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual. Every soldier is required to complete a survey that consists of some 100 questions.

If their responses fall short of the accepted fitness level, the soldier is required to take courses in a classroom or online to strengthen their resilience in the areas in which they received low scores.

The spiritual component of the test contains questions clearly written for soldiers who believe in God. Nonbelievers inevitably test poorly – and, due to their low scores, are forced to participate in courses and exercises that use religious language to train soldiers up to an acceptable level of spiritual beliefs.

The survey asks the soldier to rank himself or herself on statements such as: “I am a spiritual person. I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all of humanity. I often find comfort in my religion and spiritual beliefs.” Another question asks the soldier to respond to this statement: “In difficult times, I pray or meditate.”

The Spiritual Fitness test is taken online. If the person does not measure up to what the Army considers appropriately “spiritually fit” for a soldier, the computer program provides this assessment immediately: “Spiritual fitness may be an area of difficulty.”

The on-screen message continues, “You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and to others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles and values.”

The Spiritual Fitness test is being challenged in the courts as a violation of the First Amendment. Many “foxhole atheists” are outraged because when they “fail” the Spiritual Fitness test, they are being told they are unfit to serve in the Army.

Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, believes that the term “spirituality” is a smokescreen for religion – particularly evangelical Christianity – and that the test is “blatantly unconstitutional.” Weinstein is adamant: “It has to stop.”

I find the Spiritual Fitness test troubling not just because it violates a soldier’s First Amendment rights but also because the ironic twist embedded in this assessment makes the results of the test simply bizarre. The Army believes that people who pass the Spiritual Fitness test make acceptable soldiers.

However, as a Christian pastor, I think that precisely the opposite is true. Those who pass the Spiritual Fitness test are least likely to make good soldiers because their deeply held religious beliefs should make it impossible for them to kill others.

Those who score the highest on the Spiritual Fitness test should actually be rated as failures on this assessment tool because they should be bound by their faith to protect and promote all life.

The soldiers who answer a resounding yes to a particular statement (“I am a spiritual person. I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all of humanity”) would not consider anyone an “enemy” and would not kill another member of the human family – of any nationality, any ethnicity, in any country. Period.

The Army believes that soldiers need to be “spiritually fit” to serve in the military. And yet every major religion forbids killing, so if you are spiritually fit, you cannot serve. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a sacred commandment on the lips of every faithful person is “Thou shall not kill.” And that sentiment is found in all the holy books and in every religious tradition around the globe.

So the Army has it backwards. Those who pass the Spiritual Fitness test – especially those who sail through with flying colors – should not be issued a gun.

They wouldn’t use it.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a regular column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com [1]. Her next column will appear in September.

 

IF ONLY PASSING THE TEST MEANT REFUSING TO KILL

Tom Weiner
A wonderful letter from a spiritual leader! It is outrageous that a spiritual test that overtly discriminates against those who do not believe in God is being used by the military to… what? Weed out those who are more likely to be able to take another’s life because they don’t believe their lives are “closely connected to all of humanity?” This is utter hypocrisy and Rev. Ayvazian does a fine job in pointing this out as she writes about the absurdity of requiring a soldier to pass a test of his spirituality and then expect him to see the enemy as other, as less human in order to become the killing machine he is trained to be.

My only very minor criticism pertains to Rev. Ayvazian’s conclusion – that those who pass the test “shouldn’t be issued a gun (because) they wouldn’t use it.” I have to beg to differ, since it is just those often evangelical Christians who “sail through with flying colors,” who justify taking another’s life by connecting God and the American flag via patriotism. If only we could succeed in dissolving this connection that has lead to innumerable deaths going back to the beginning of time and extending through Rome’s persecution of Christians, the horrible Crusades, Pakistan and India’s endless often bloody struggles, the unending wars between Israel and the Palestinians and right until the current wars pitting, in the eyes of many, Christianity against Islam.

If only the equation was made that Rev. Ayvazian points out when she mentions the pan-religious/humanitarian principle “Thou shalt not kill,” a connection that would equate leading a spiritual or atheistic life with refusing to take another’s life. That will be the day that the leaders will no longer have anyone to send to do their bidding and war will become unacceptable as a way to resolve conflict.