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leading member of United for Peace and Justice and the Win Without War coalition, we lend our
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Real change comes from the bottom up.
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Together, we have the power to be the change we wish to see in the world.
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|WAR IS OVER
|"No matter how cynical you
get, it's almost impossible
to keep up." - Lily Tomlin
|PEACE ACTION YOUNGSTOWN
|Way Worse Than
a Dumb War:
Iraq Ten Years Later
Phyllis Bennis- The Nation
Editor’s Note: This statement on the tenth anniversary of the launch of the
Iraq War was signed by Phyllis Bennis, John Cavanagh and Steve Cobble
(Institute for Policy Studies); Judith LeBlanc and Kevin Martin (Peace
Action); Laura Flanders (GritTV); Bill Fletcher (The Black Commentator);
Andy Shallal (Iraqis for Peace); Medea Benjamin (Code Pink); Michael T.
McPhearson and Leslie Cagan (United for Peace and Justice); Michael
Eisenscher (US Labor Against the War) and David Wildman. All
organizations for identification only.
It didn’t take long for the world to recognize that the US invasion and
occupation of Iraq constituted a dumb war, as then Senator Barack Obama
put it. But “dumb” wasn’t the half of it.
The US war against Iraq was illegal and illegitimate. It violated the UN
Charter, the Geneva Conventions and a whole host of international laws
and treaties. It violated US laws and our Constitution with impunity. And it
was all based on lies: about nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda,
about never-were ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden,
about Iraq’s invisible weapons of mass destruction and about Baghdad’s
supposed nuclear program, with derivative lies about uranium yellowcake
from Niger and aluminum rods from China. There were lies about US troops
being welcomed in the streets with sweets and flowers, and lies about
thousands of jubilant Iraqis spontaneously tearing down the statue of a
And then there was the lie that the US could send hundreds of thousands of
soldiers and billions of dollars worth of weapons across the world to wage
war on the cheap. We didn’t have to raise taxes to pay the almost one
trillion dollars the Iraq war has cost so far, we could go shopping instead.
But behind these myths the costs were huge—human, economic and more.
More than a million US troops were deployed to Iraq; 4,483 were killed;
33,183 were wounded and more than 200,000 came home with PTSD. The
number of Iraqi civilians killed is still unknown; at least 121,754 are known to
have been killed directly during the US war, but hundreds of thousands
more died from crippling sanctions, diseases caused by dirty water when
the US destroyed the water treatment system and the inability to get
medical help because of exploding violence.
And what are we leaving behind? After almost a decade the US finally
pulled out most of its troops and Pentagon-paid contractors. About 16,000
State Department-paid contractors and civilian employees are still stationed
at the giant US embassy compound and two huge consulates, along with
unacknowledged CIA and FBI agents, Special Forces and a host of other
undercover operatives. The US just sold the Iraqi government 140 M-l
tanks, and American-made fighter jets are in the pipeline too.
But there is little question that the all-encompassing US military occupation
of Iraq is over.
After more than eight years of war, the Iraqi government finally said no
more. Their refusal to grant US troops immunity from prosecution for
potential war crimes was the deal-breaker that forced President Obama’s
hand and made him pull out the last 30,000 troops he and his generals
were hoping to keep in Iraq.
But as we knew would be the case, the pull out by itself did not end the
violence. The years of war and occupation have left behind a devastated
country, split along sectarian lines, a shredded social fabric and a
dispossessed and impoverished population. Iraq remains one of the most
violent countries in the world; that’s the true legacy of the US war. We owe a
great debt to the people of Iraq—and we have not even begun to make
good on that commitment.
The US lost the Iraq War. Iraq hasn’t been “liberated.” Violence is rampant;
the sectarian violence resulting from early US policies after the 2003
invasion continues to escalate. Of course we didn’t bring democracy and
freedom to Iraq—that was never on the US agenda. The failure to “liberate”
Iraq cannot be the basis for assessing the war.
The real assessment must be based on whether the war achieved the goals
that the Bush administration and its neo-conservative, military CEO and
Pentagon profiteering partners established for this war:
Consolidating permanent US control over Iraq’s oil. Nope, US oil companies
are just some of the myriad of foreign oil interests in Iraq’s oil fields.
Leaving behind a pro-US, anti-Iranian government in Baghdad. Hardly,
Prime Minister al-Maliki is barely on speaking terms with anyone in
Guaranteeing permanent access to US bases in Iraq. Not even close, all but
two of the 500 plus US bases and outposts were either closed down or
turned over to the Iraqi military.
Ensuring that a post-war Iraqi government would allow the US to use Iraq as
a jumping off point to attack Iran. No way, despite continuing billions of
dollars of our tax money, the Iraqi government today is allied more closely
to Iran than the US.
In the buildup to the war, too many media, government officials, academics
and others allowed fear to curb their tongue or their eagerness to curry
favor with those in power to stifle their speech. This remains a crucial
lesson as we stand up to the escalation of Obama’s drone war and continue
to challenge those who call for war against Iran.
The war in Iraq began with significant support, with many people accepting
the false claims that this new war would bring security to a still-frightened
US public. But that support did not last long. Within the first years, pro-war
assumptions had been reversed, and by the end, the anti-war movement
and escalating casualties had turned around public opinion so thoroughly
that overwhelming majorities admitted the war in Iraq was wrong and should
never have been fought in the first place.
And this war showed us our power. It proved the possibility of globalizing
opposition even before the war began. The mobilization of February 15,
2003, when the broad United for Peace and Justice coalition joined with
allies around the world on the day the world said “No to War!” February 15
created what The New York Times called “the second super-power,” ready
to challenge the US drive towards empire. Our movement changed history.
While we were not able to prevent the invasion of Iraq a month later, that
mobilization proved the illegality of the war. It demonstrated the isolation of
the Bush administration, pulled governments and the United Nations into a
trajectory of resistance, helped prevent war in Iran and inspired a
generation of activists, including some of those who, eight years later,
would create the Arab Spring in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The US troops left behind a devastated, tortured Iraq. What they didn’t
leave behind is one dollar for reparations or compensation. That battle still
lies ahead. The US war in Iraq may be over, but we owe an apology to all
those who suffered from the war. And that apology must be grounded in
recognition of our enormous debt to the people of Iraq, a debt for which
compensation and reparations are only a start. Our real obligation, to the
people of Iraq and the region and the rest of the world, is to transform our
government and our country so that these resource-driven wars, shaped by
lies and fought for power and for empire, whether in Iran or somewhere
else, can never be waged again
Read more: http://www.thenation.com/blog/173396/way-worse-dumb-war-
|Life in the Electronic Concentration
Camp: The Many Ways That You're
Being Tracked and Controlled
Fri, 10 Jan 2014 By John W Whitehead, Rutherford Institute | News Analysis
A security camera doesn’t respond to complaint, threats, or insults. Instead,
it just watches you in a forbidding manner. Today, the surveillance state is so
deeply enmeshed in our data devices that we don’t even scream back because
technology companies have convinced us that we need to be connected to
them to be happy.”—Pratap Chatterjee, journalist
What is most striking about the American police state is not the mega-
corporations running amok in the halls of Congress, the militarized police
crashing through doors and shooting unarmed citizens, or the invasive
surveillance regime which has come to dominate every aspect of our lives. No,
what has been most disconcerting about the emergence of the American police
state is the extent to which the citizenry appears content to passively wait for
someone else to solve our nation’s many problems. Unless Americans are
prepared to engage in militant nonviolent resistance in the spirit of Martin Luther
King Jr. and Gandhi, true reform, if any, will be a long time coming.
Yet as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American
Police State, if we don’t act soon, all that is in need of fixing will soon be
unfixable, especially as it relates to the police state that becomes more
entrenched with each passing day. By “police state,” I am referring to more than
a society overrun by the long arm of the police. I am referring to a society in
which all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents, one in
which all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their
movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties
and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.
That said, how can anyone be expected to “fix” what is broken unless they first
understand the lengths to which the government with its arsenal of technology is
going in order to accustom the American people to life in a police state and why
being spied on by government agents, both state and federal, as well as their
partners in the corporate world, is a problem, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
Indeed, as the trend towards overcriminalization makes clear, it won’t be long
before the average law-abiding American is breaking laws she didn’t even know
existed during the course of a routine day. The point, of course, is that while you
may be oblivious to your so-called law-breaking—whether it was collecting
rainwater to water your lawn, lighting a cigarette in the privacy of your home, or
gathering with friends in your backyard for a Sunday evening Bible study—the
government will know each and every transgression and use them against you.
As noted by the Brookings Institution, “For the first time ever, it will become
technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record
nearly everything that is said or done within their borders — every phone
conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of
nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner.”
As the following will show, the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed
the surveillance state, is perhaps the most insidious of the police state’s many
tentacles, impacting almost every aspect of our lives and making it that much
easier for the government to encroach on our most vital freedoms, ranging from
free speech, assembly and the press to due process, privacy, and property,
by eavesdropping on our communications, tracking our movements
and spying on our activities.
Tracking you based on your consumer activities: Fusion centers, federal-state
law enforcement partnerships which attempt to aggregate a variety of data on so-
called “suspicious persons,” have actually collected reports on people buying
pallets of bottled water, photographing government buildings, and applying for a
pilot’s license as “suspicious activity.” Retailers are getting in on the surveillance
game as well. Large corporations such as Target have been tracking and
assessing the behavior of their customers, particularly their purchasing patterns,
for years. In 2015, mega-food corporations will be rolling out high-tech shelving
outfitted with cameras in order to track the shopping behavior of customers,
as well as information like the age and sex of shoppers.
Tracking you based on your public activities: Sensing a booming industry, private
corporations are jumping on the surveillance state bandwagon, negotiating
lucrative contracts with police agencies throughout the country in order to create
a web of surveillance that encompasses all major urban centers. Companies
such as NICE and Bright Planet are selling equipment and services to police
departments with the promise of monitoring large groups of people seamlessly,
as in the case of protests and rallies. They are also engaging in extensive online
surveillance, looking for any hints of “large public events, social unrest, gang
communications, and criminally predicated individuals.” Defense contractors are
attempting to take a bite out of this lucrative market as well. Raytheon has
recently developed a software package known as Riot, which promises to predict
the future behavior of an individual based upon his social media posts.
Tracking you based on your phone activities: The CIA has been paying AT&T
over $10 million per year in order to gain access to data on Americans’ phone
calls abroad. This is in addition to telecommunications employees being
embedded in government facilities to assist with quick analysis of call records
and respond to government requests for customer location data. They receive
hundreds of thousands of such requests per year.
Tracking you based on your computer activities: Federal agents now employ a
number of hacking methods in order to gain access to your computer activities
and “see” whatever you’re seeing on your monitor. Malicious hacking software
can be installed via a number of inconspicuous methods, including USB,
or via an email attachment or software update. It can then be used to search
through files stored on a hard drive, log keystrokes, or take real time
screenshots of whatever a person is looking at on their computer,
whether personal files, web pages, or email messages. It can also be used
to remotely activate cameras and microphones, offering another means of
glimpsing into the personal business of a target.
Tracking you based on your behavior: Thanks to a torrent of federal grants,
police departments across the country are able to fund outrageous new
surveillance systems that turn the most basic human behaviors into suspicious
situations to be studied and analyzed. Police in California, Massachusetts, and
New York have all received federal funds to create systems like that operated by
the New York Police Department, which “links 3,000 surveillance cameras with
license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect
lists.” Police all across the country are also now engaging in big data mining
operations, often with the help of private companies, in order to develop city-wide
nets of surveillance. For example, police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida,
now work with IBM in order to “integrate new data and analytics tools
into everyday crime fighting.”
Tracking you based on your face: Facial recognition software promises to create
a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and
recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government
agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of
the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states
all across the country (only twelve states do not use facial recognition software).
For example, in Ohio, 30,000 police officers and court employees are able to
access the driver’s license images of people in the state, without any form of
oversight to track their views or why they’re accessing them. The FBI is
developing a $1 billion program, Next Generation Identification, which involves
creating a massive database of mugshots for police all across the country.
Tracking you based on your car: License plate readers, which can identify the
owner of any car that comes within its sights, are growing in popularity among
police agencies. Affixed to overpasses or cop cars, these devices give police a
clear idea of where your car was at a specific date and time, whether the doctor’s
office, the bar, the mosque, or at a political rally. State police in Virginia used
license plate readers to record every single vehicle that arrived to President
Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 from Virginia. They also recorded the
license plates of attendees at rallies prior to the election, including for then-
candidate Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. This
data collection came at the request of the U.S. Secret Service. Incredibly, Virginia
police stored data on some 8 million license plates, some for up to three years.
Tracking you based on your social media activities: The obsession with social
media as a form of surveillance will have some frightening consequences in
coming years. As Helen A.S. Popkin, writing for NBC News, has astutely
observed, “We may very well face a future where algorithms bust people en
masse for referencing illegal ‘Game of Thrones’ downloads, or run sweeps for
insurance companies seeking non-smokers confessing to lapsing back into the
habit. Instead of that one guy getting busted for a lame joke misinterpreted
as a real threat, the new software has the potential to roll, Terminator-style,
targeting every social media user with a shameful confession or
questionable sense of humor.”
Tracking you based on your metadata: Metadata is an incredibly invasive set of
data to have on a person. Indeed, with access to one’s metadata, one can
“identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain
time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive
information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an
extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.” The National Security
Agency (NSA) has been particularly interested in metadata, compiling information
on Americans’ social connections “that can identify their associates, their
locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal
information.” Mainway, the main NSA tool used to connect the dots on American
social connections, collected 700 million phone records per day in 2011. That
number increased by 1.1 billion in August 2011. The NSA is now working on
creating “a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion ‘record events’
daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.”
Tracking you from the skies: Nothing, and I mean nothing, will escape
government eyes, especially when drones take to the skies in 2015. These
gadgets, ranging from the colossal to the miniature, will have the capability of
seeing through the walls of your home and tracking your every movement.
To put it bluntly, we are living in an electronic concentration camp. Through a
series of imperceptible steps, we have willingly allowed ourselves to become
enmeshed in a system that knows the most intimate details of our lives, analyzes
them, and treats us accordingly. Whether via fear of terrorism, narcissistic
pleasure, or lazy materialism, we have slowly handed over our information to all
sorts of entities, corporate and governmental, public and private, who are now
using that information to cow and control us for their profit. As George Orwell
warned, “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the
assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness,
every movement scrutinized.”
Thus, we have arrived in Orwell’s world. The question now is: will we take a stand
and fight to remain free or will we go gently into the concentration camp?
|Commemorating" the Vietnam
War: One Marine's Perspective
By Camillo Mac Bica, Truthout | Op-Ed
March 29 has been designated "Vietnam Veterans Day,” according to a
proclamation issued by President Obama in 2012. The Vietnam War,
according to the proclamation, "is a story of patriots who braved the line of
fire, who cast themselves into harm's way to save a friend, who fought hour
after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear." Now I have
no problem acknowledging the debt owed to all whose lives were affected
by this war, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and Americans alike. What
I find intolerable, even disgraceful, however, is that even 50 years later,
our leaders are incapable of telling the truth about the war and choose
rather to perpetuate the lie that these "sacrifices," at least those of the
Americans, were "to preserve the liberties we hold dear." Such rhetoric -
although perhaps inspiring to some - hinders reconciliation, dishonors the
veteran, and damages the moral integrity of this nation.
As we embark upon a congressionally mandated 13-year-long
commemoration, probably "celebration" would be more accurate, of the
50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, I feel a responsibility, as a veteran of
that war, to contribute a perspective I fear will be ignored willfully at the
official commemoration web site. I am certain that there are as many
perspectives as there are individuals who served, observed, protested
against and supported that very divisive war. Consequently, I offer no
guarantee that my observations, interpretations and conclusions about the
war are definitive, or better than those of someone with a profoundly
different recollection and analysis.
What I offer in this essay, then, is my personal narrative and a perspective
on the Vietnam War by a former Marine Corps officer, Vietnam veteran and
philosopher who has spent many years studying the theory of war, diverse
historical accounts of the Vietnam war and, perhaps more to the point,
contemplating a life profoundly impacted by the experience. My hope is to
tell the truth as I see it and offer an analysis of the war that counters what I
fear is the goal and purpose of this proclamation and commemoration.
That is, to continue to perpetuate, if not ratchet up, the lie of 50 years ago
and the mythological portrayal of the Vietnam War as justifiable, necessary
and in the national interest.
Childhood Memories: Learning About War
I was born in Brooklyn, New York. My parents, like most immigrants at the
time, were grateful to be living in this land of "unlimited opportunity."
Influenced by Catholic school education, John Wayne movies and John F.
Kennedy's admonishment to "ask what you can do for your country," I grew
up stridently patriotic with a strong sense of duty to God and to country.
The Old Ones
As the old men played Briscola, a card game of Sicilian origin, they smoked
DiNobli cigars and drank Caffe' Corretto, a grappa-laced espresso, in small
cups. The cigar smoke lay heavy in the room, dispersing the glow of the
single light bulb that hung precariously over the table. They spoke in
broken English of coming to America. Some came illegally. Most flirted a bit
with the mafia, and all worked hard to support their families in a difficult job
market for laborers. Nervous and excited, I listened attentively, from a safe
distance, hidden behind the old green sofa. On most occasions I was
quickly discovered. And after a good-natured reprimand and a gentle "boot
in the ass," I was sent on my way. On a few occasions, however, my
perseverance was greatly rewarded. For reasons I can only speculate
about, no one seemed to notice my presence. Even as a 10-year-old,
I realized that this was a special place and I had no business
eavesdropping on such privileged conversation.
As they consumed the potent coffee, barriers lowered and the discussion,
at least as I remember it, invariably turned to their experiences during the
Second World War and the Korean conflict. Despite being immigrants, all
were drafted into the American military. I listened intently as my father,
while contemplating his next discard, recalled his experiences as a US
Army interpreter fighting through the villages and countryside of Sicily, the
land of his birth. Somberly, he described in great detail how American
artillery and bombing had devastated the village in which he was born.
How he had been torn between strong feelings of patriotism for his adopted
homeland and a deep sense of shame and guilt he felt for the deaths of
innocent villagers, some of whom had been his neighbors. I learned also
that my Uncle Gasper, a SeaBee, had narrowly escaped being killed by a
Japanese sniper while building an airfield on Guadalcanal. Uncle Tony,
nicknamed "Squint Eye," but only addressed as such by a few of his
closest friends, told of nearly being blinded by shrapnel during a kamikaze
attack against his minesweeper in the South Pacific. What impressed me
most, I think, was hearing my Uncle Joe relate, with great emotion, the
heroic last stand of the Marines at the frozen Chosin Reservoir in Korea.
I was amazed to see this very strong, austere and stoic man cry when he
described gently holding a fellow Marine in his arms as the dying man
gasped his last breath. As I listened to their stories, despite my young age,
I empathized with their obvious pain and grief.
Surely, the Old Ones were aware of my presence behind the old green
sofa. I often wondered why, on those few occasions, I was allowed to
remain and witness such intensely personal discussions of aspects of their
lives they kept so well hidden from all except those who shared similar
experiences. Perhaps they thought it important that I know the family
history. In my more whimsical moments, however, I fancy that they were
trying to educate me and make me aware of war's realities.
In my youth, I was fascinated and exhilarated by war. Because of what I had
learned from my hiding place behind the old green sofa, however, I was
also wary of its devastating effects. War was an enigma I wished I could
have discussed with the Old Ones. My concerns could never be
addressed, however, as I realized the inappropriateness of discussing such
matters outside the sanctuary of "the warrior's circle."
Confronting the Vietnam War
In 1968, America was at war. Communism was the menace; Vietnam, the
focal point of the confrontation between good and evil, the domino of
choice that must, at all costs, remain standing. To the Vietnamese,
however, it was a continuing struggle against another in a seemingly
endless series of colonial or occupying powers intent upon denying them
independence, national unity and self-determination. To Americans, it was
portrayed as a grass-roots struggle between north and south, a noble and
necessary intervention to exorcize pervasive evil seeking world domination.
Ultimately, however, it was a disaster, a quagmire, an immoral, illegal,
unnecessary and divisive war few chose to fight, so many were conscripted.
"The unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the
indifferent and the ungrateful." Anonymous Grafitti
As a consequence of the draft, many young Americans were confronted
with a profound social and moral dilemma. Whether to severely disrupt
their lives, possibly shame themselves and their families by expatriating -
fleeing to Canada - or risk injury or death by answering the call, becoming
a warrior and, in the view of many, a murderer, or an accessory to murder.
However, I had an additional option. Upon graduating from college, I could
have availed myself - quite rightly, my parents believed - of the deferment
from military service offered to teachers at the time - a testimony, I guess,
to the importance of education in creating the "Great Society" that Lyndon
Johnson had hoped would be the legacy of his administration. Further,
because the teaching position was at an "inner-city school," the social
importance of such an undertaking, I reasoned, justified accepting the
deferment. In truth, such rationalization was unnecessary, because
avoiding military service was quite common and un-noteworthy, especially
for the wealthy and the influential. For me, however, to remain at home
while others fought and died in my place was cowardice. More importantly,
it was an affront to the parents of my childhood friend Ralphie, who, a few
months earlier, had dutifully, albeit reluctantly, sent their son to war. All
they received in return were fragments of bone and sinew and a form letter
from the president of the United States expressing the nation's regrets and
gratitude for Ralphie's heroic sacrifice in behalf of freedom and democracy.
Code words for a mistake, a paranoia-driven crusade against contrived evil
that demanded the life of their child.
As I watched the drama of Ralphie's funeral unfold, I remembered playing
stickball on East 87th Street not many years before. I smiled, recalling how
a foul ball had broken Eddie's mother's window and how Ralphie had
quickly handed me the bat before shrewdly escaping to the sanctuary of
Anthony's garage. No one believed I wasn't the culprit, until Ralphie
abandoned his hiding place and with cobwebs hanging from his forehead,
bravely admitted to the deed. As they lowered Ralphie's casket into the
ground, I drifted among a tangle of childhood memories - ring-a-levio, kick-
the-can on humid summer nights, and riding our bikes down "suicide hill."
Ralphie was 20 years, 6 months and 2 days old when war ended his life.
The lesson I learned from Ralphie's death was that in war young people die
and old people grieve. The rational response would probably have been to
put the tragedy behind me, to accept the deferment and go on with my life.
But those were not rational times. Instead, I enlisted in the Marine Corps -
understanding full well that a trip to Vietnam was guaranteed.
I was excited and could not wait to tell my Uncle Joe. I thought for sure he
would be pleased, proud that his nephew chose to emulate him and
become a Marine. As I gave him the good news, I studied his time-worn
face for approval. I sensed, perhaps for the first time, an uncharacteristic
vulnerability, even frailty. He seemed much older than his years. "Why you
do that?" he said as our eyes finally met. Without waiting for a response,
he kissed me on both cheeks. "Che Dio vi benedica" were his last words to
me as he turned and walked away. Rendered speechless by what had
occurred, I didn't even think to return the blessing or to say goodbye. Soon
after I had arrived in Vietnam, I learned my Uncle Joe had died.
In retrospect, I'm not really certain why I decided not to accept the
deferment. Perhaps, it was patriotism, or bravado, or even to avenge my
friend's death. Or perhaps it was just to fulfill my destiny as a warrior and
heir apparent to the legacy of the Old Ones. I left on July 5, 1968, for
Marine Corps officer training at Quantico, Virginia. What I failed to realize
at the time, however, was that I was leaving behind, forever, all that I had
cherished and held sacred for the past 21 years. Most tragically, I was
leaving behind the innocence of my youth.
The Experience of War
Marine Corps training was truly a life-altering experience. What ultimately
enables a Marine to ignore the ethical limits normally placed on the use of
violence – to kill and to die in battle – is not abstract ideology, or even
patriotism, but rather a personal code of honor, self-respect, loyalty and
accountability to one's comrades. I learned my lessons well and readily
embraced the mythology of the warrior. Upon completion of my training,
I felt part of a proud and chivalrous tradition, a select brotherhood of noble
and courageous knights, empowered by God and country to exorcize the
demonic agents of evil. I was prepared to kill and to selflessly sacrifice my
life, if need be, for right and for good. After Ralphie's death and the
sacrifices of the Old Ones, how could I do anything less?
Soon after arriving in Vietnam, however, I learned that no one is truly
prepared for the horror, inhumanity and destruction of "demythologized"
war. Fear, inevitably, is the myth breaker, restoring to war a reality that is
bleak, uncompromising and hellish.
"My first experience of war was not auspicious. As mortar rounds walked in
upon us, like giant steps of death and destruction, I was mesmerized by
excitement and fear. Frozen in place, gauging the next footfall, I was
pushed, rather unceremoniously, into a sandbagged bunker, more to clear
the escape route than from a concern for my well-being. All that I had
learned forgotten, I burrowed, wormlike, into the muddy bottom, seeking
sanctuary, cursing my inability to disappear into the earthen mother's
womb." (war journals, Bica, C.C., 1969)
Despite my childhood fascination and Marine Corps indoctrination, I was
never enthusiastic about war. Even those more motivated than I, those who
viewed war as a means for advancement, lacked fervor for this particular
enterprise. Yet men turned easily into killers, shedding a young lifetime of
humanity and compassion. In a brief moment of frenzy, killing became
orgasmic, and death, performance art.
"A body of a dead Viet Cong sapper stood upright impaled in layers of
concertina wire marking the no-man's land that surrounds the perimeter of
a firebase north of Danang. Killed trying to breech the base's defenses, his
catatonic body adorned by holiday revelers with Christmas decorations and
a sign, soiled with blood and entrails, wishing all peace and good will from
the United States Marines. As we passed and entered the base, few even
took notice. I heard one young Marine, newly arrived in country, whisper to
no one in particular, "Ho, fucking ho, fucking ho." The innocence of youth
dies quickly when killing becomes a rite of passage."
(war journals, Bica, C.C., 1969)
The reality of the situation on the ground failed to match the rhetoric of our
leaders. I felt a moral uneasiness with both the purpose of the war and the
manner in which it was conducted. Because attrition became the strategy
and the goal - seemingly the only strategy and goal - and identification of
the enemy problematic, killing became indiscriminate and all too easy.
Dying became routine, purposeless and seemingly inevitable ... and
Ralphie's death all the more tragic. But yet,
"With the Marine Corps Hymn lingering in the background of my mind, I
persevered, like Sergeant Stryker charging valiantly up Suribachi, dying
quickly, quietly, gently, and without pain or regret. In truth, most linger,
scream for their mothers like children, first imploring God to let them live,
then begging for death to end their suffering. Final glances exchanged
eyes burned deeply into my soul. Faces of the soon to be dead, I'll
remember for the rest of my life." (war journals, Bica, C.C., 1969)
Patriotic hymns and anthems fade quickly amid the screams of the
mutilated and the dying. As the warrior's mythology crumbled, I felt an
overwhelming burden of responsibility, no longer to Corps and country but
to those whose lives depended upon my abilities and decisions. I saw
Ralphie in each of their young faces, made empty and hardened by war,
and was deafened by the heartbreaking and poignant cries of parents
pleading for the lives of their children. Survival was all that really mattered.
What I failed to realize at the time, however, was that, at least in spirit, we
were all already dead.
War usurps the omnipotence of god, the power over life and death, and
makes it anathema. Some found such power exhilarating. I knew people
like that, didn't like them much. Thought them lucky, though, as killing and
dying meant nothing. In a perverse way, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the jazz,
the excitement, the power. Intoxicated by war, such men hated to see it
end. For me, the war never ends.
For the remainder of my time in country, I struggled with the conflicting
responsibilities of an officer of Marines in war and of safeguarding the lives
of those entrusted to my care. Tragically, what mattered least in this moral
equation were those we were allegedly there to liberate and to protect.
They became expendable as dead Vietnamese posed no threat to our
survival and satisfied the military demand for body count. Like most, I did
what "had to be done," and this is something I will live with for the rest of my
life. ... All of war is atrocity.
We often hear our military and political leaders speak of our nation's
uncompromising commitment to the international and moral laws of war and
rules of engagement. Such talk, however, is, in reality, part of the
mythology, necessary to maintain a guise of legality and morality and to
allow our national conscience to remain clean. As is clear from history, law
as it applies to war, is merely a tactic of advantage, having relevance and
application only should belligerent nations find such law and restrictions
advantageous to the achievement of some important national goal or
purpose. But when perceived political or military interest comes in conflict
with legal and moral principles, it is inevitably the former that prevails. How
else could one explain the systemic incineration of hundreds of thousands
of innocent men, women and children as a consequence of the saturation
and nuclear bombing of cities during World War II, while, at the same time,
countries doing the bombing condemned the genocide of Nazi death
camps. How else can one explain torture, "targeted" drone assassination
and signature strikes during the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.,
while the perpetrators condemn the terrorism of al Qaeda.
Make no mistake, however. Few if any go to war to murder innocent
people. Most exert great effort, often at considerable personal risk, to
protect the innocent and conduct themselves with decency and integrity.
Unfortunately, either under the rubric of "supreme emergency," as was the
case in World War II, or because of the morally untenable conditions of
guerrilla and/or counterinsurgency warfare as in Vietnam, Iraq and
Afghanistan, soldiers inevitably become the unwitting instruments of
slaughter. Such occurrences are always tragic and regrettable but never
more so than when war is misguided and unnecessary. Those removed
from the chaos and confusion of the battlefield are understandably
appalled by what, from their perspective, constitutes brutality and murder.
When public outrage demands justice, it is invariably the warrior who is
held accountable while those who initiated the war or who supported or did
little or nothing to stop it are themselves absolved of responsibility and
permitted to continue their charade of moral awareness and concern as
they sit in judgment of our actions. We are the victims of their hypocrisy,
the scapegoats for the inevitable affront to the national conscience and the
sacrificial lambs sent to slaughter in retribution for our collective guilt and
inadequacies. In fact, no one knows the sacrilege of war better than we
who must fight it and then have to live with the memories of what we have
done and what we have become.
"The monster and I are one. I have feasted upon the flesh of decaying
corpses and with their blood have quenched my thirst. The transformation
is complete and I can never return. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima
culpa." (war journals, Bica, C.C., 1969)
The Aftermath of War
All who are touched by war are tainted. Upon my return to the the United
States world, I felt a stranger in my own home, disoriented and adrift
between the world I recognized as my place of origin - although now quite
alien - and the world of killing and destruction of which I was a part.
"Things were different . . . or maybe I was different. As much as I had come
to hate the war, there at least I felt I belonged. I knew what was expected of
me, and I had become proficient at fulfilling those expectations. Here I am a
misfit, an aberration, isolated and alone." (postwar journals, Bica, C.C.,
Vietnam was the defining experience of my life. Although physical wounds
may heal, the emotional, psychological and moral injuries of war linger and
fester. Vietnam forever pervades my existence, condemning me to
continually relive and question the past. Inevitable concerns of those who
participate in an enterprise whose primary - no, sole - function is to take life
and cause others to die. Despite the urging of well-meaning friends and
loved ones, I can never forget Vietnam nor put it behind me. No one truly
recovers from war. No one is ever made whole again. The best that can be
hoped, I think, is to achieve a degree of benign acceptance. To that end, I
strive each day to forgive and absolve myself of guilt and to live with the
wounds of war that will never heal.
"The endless screams of the dying forever echo in my mind. A sacrificial
offering of virgins to placate the elder gods. I've become an atheist."
(postwar journals, Bica, C.C., 1971)
Of late, I think often of Ralphie and his parents, of ring-o-levio, and bike
rides down "suicide hill." I often think too of the Old Ones, and sometimes,
while deep in thought, or, perhaps, lost in a daydream, I can almost smell
the faint aroma of DiNobili cigars and alcohol-tinged espresso. For a
fleeting moment, I am 10 years old again, watching and listening from
behind the old green sofa. But now the exhilaration, awe and wonder I
enjoyed as a child is gone as I have learned the reality of war. I think of the
Old Ones, still with admiration, but now tempered by understanding and
sadness for all they had endured. I know now the true cost of war and the
burden of life in its aftermath. I realize as well that all war is profane - and
unnecessary war is sacrilege. And perhaps worst of all, I know the
frustration of having to sit idly by, helpless, as it all happens again. I mourn
young lives devastated by war. I see Ralphie in each of their faces and am
deafened by the screams of devastated loved ones. Never had I missed
the Old Ones more, especially my father. Never were my Uncle Joe and the
Marine who died in his arms at the Chosin more clearly in my mind.
Perhaps war is a reality that will not soon go away, and sacrifices on the
field of battle will again be required. But rather than "commemorate" and
"celebrate" Vietnam with lies, let us end the mythologizing of war and
demand truth. Let us question war's purpose and necessity and ensure a
clarity of vision rather than the blind compliance some wish to portray as
patriotism. Let us ensure that war remains a means of last resort and that
no other person will again have to kill, die or grieve the loss of their son or
daughter for a cause that is misguided. Let us demand accountability for
war criminals who dare to initiate such wars and connive to use deception
and myth to encourage participation and support. Let us make this our
legacy and celebrate peace rather than war.
Camillo "Mac" Bica, PhD, is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts
in New York City. He is a former Marine Corps officer, Vietnam veteran, longtime
activist for peace and social justice, and the coordinator of the Long Island Chapter
of Veterans for Peace.
|Subsidies and Indemnity
Child for the
by KEVIN CARSON
Just about every week
another story comes to my
attention confirming the
complete and total
fracking — beloved of so
many self-proclaimed “free
market” advocates on the
libertarian right. Something
about eminent domain to
build the pipelines, or liability
caps for spills, or regulatory
approval of unsafe pipelines
superseding tort liability for
negligence, and ad nauseam.
I have another couple
of them right here.
First, an article in Monthly
Review (Lauren Regan,
describes the revolving door
of personnel between federal
law enforcement and the oil
and gas industry’s private
goon squads, and how “the U.
S. government has colluded
with private corporations and
extractive industries to
ratchet up their
upon climate justice activists.”
The fossil fuel industries like
to spin off private “security”
and “public relations” firms
(often staffed by retired
federal and state cops) to spy
on perfectly legal activist
groups, infiltrate and disrupt
them, and give intelligence to
PR staff — who then cook up
scary “fact sheets” to
discredit activists to both
media and law enforcement.
Extractive corporations like
TransCanada also give
PowerPoint presentations to
various levels of law
surveillance and prosecution
of activists as “terrorists” —
something the cops are all
prepared to eat up, what with
the proliferation of “Fusion
Centers” looking for stuff to
The other item: According to
a study by Katie Keranen of
Cornell University, almost all
of the 2,500 small
earthquakes in Oklahoma in
the past five years have been
the result of high pressure
wastewater injections related
to fracking. The change of
stress on existing fault lines
from the injection of water
can trigger them — with water
travelling along fault lines and
causing earthquakes up to 22
miles away. And other states
— Texas, Arkansas, Kansas,
Ohio — have also seen sharp
rises in small earthquakes
corresponding to the
introduction of fracking there.
Youngstown, Ohio — which
hadn’t previously been
bothered by earthquakes —
was hit by 109 of them in
2011 following the creation of
an injection well.
Somehow I’m guessing even
the minor structural damage
to homes from thousands of
earthquakes in five states,
breakage of possessions,
and the like, would
cumulatively amount to a
significant sum of money —
enough to have a real impact
on the bottom line of an
industry that has problems
with financial sustainability as
it is and is highly reliant on a
bubble financing Ponzi
scheme. And we haven’t even
gotten into the poisoning of
groundwater from injection of
toxic chemicals into
geologically unstable areas.
At every step of the way, the
state steps in to subsidize the
operating costs of the fossil
fuel industry, steal land for it
to build pipelines on, and
indemnify it against liability
preemption of tort law or even
flat out statutory caps on
liability for damage. And yet
like the Koch Brothers and
much of the right-wing
libertarian think tank and
loudly proclaim their support
for fracking and Keystone in
the name of the “free market.”
Sorry, folks. Fracking and
pipelines have nothing to do
with the free market. They’re
creations of the state from
beginning to end.
Kevin Carson is a senior
fellow of the Center for a
Stateless Society (c4ss.org)
and holds the Center’s Karl
Hess Chair in Social Theory.
|Peace, Salaam, Shalom - NOW!
Please call the White House
to protest Israel's attack on Gaza
(including now, a ground invasion).
202.456.1111 is the number.
Demand a ceasefire and an end to U.S. taxpayer-funded
weapons and military aid to Israel.
Some sorely needed good news,
House passes the bipartisan McGovern-Jones-Lee resolution
which requires the President to seek Congressional
authorization before deploying armed services engaged
in combat operations in Iraq.