Refuse To Surrender To Fear

Billy Mitchell

(Billy Mitchell played "What a Wonderful World" at the Onion on piano)

Friends, anyone notice how dark internet communications have become as we face ISIS the scourge of humanity, whose cadaverous faces smile awaiting the next calamity they shall visit upon us while we twist in the wind discussing how to deal with ISIS. I sing in a Unitarian Choir that had a black activist, Billy Mitchell, turned jazz pianist from the 60’s speak to us awhile ago. He, with more reasons to be negative than most of us, said: “Rather than see the negative all around me in my community and our world, there are more people now than ever working for a better world,” Then he launched into this song Louis Armstrong sang when Blacks were suffering from segregation, beatings from southern sheriffs, and all seemed so very hopeless:

Louie Armstrong wonderful world

I see trees of green, red roses too

Red Rose

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

Hiroshima Do Your Peace

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

colors of the rainbow

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

But what they’re really saying is I love you.

Hands together avatar for peace

I hear babies crying and watch them grow

They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Louie Armstrong and kids

Terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn’t be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. When President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he’s exactly right. Terrorism can’t and won’t destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might. So how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult trade-offs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad.

Obama wonderful world

Sometimes a terrorist attack slipped through.Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling the agonizing issue of refugees. Do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity. The goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. The most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear and that is my point in using Louie Armstrong's wonderful song.

wonderful world

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Tourists of Empire

Afghanistan war cartoon By William Astore, retired Air Force Lieutenant, who discusses America’s peculiar brand of global imperialism. He mentions in Afghanistan and elsewhere the U.S. is suffering from Imperial Tourism Syndrome. Published: October 28, 2015 | Authors: William Astore | TomDispatch | Op-Ed

(Photos and cartoons have been inserted from media)

The United States is a peculiar sort of empire.  As a start, Americans have been in what might be called imperial denial since the Spanish-American War of 1898, if not before.  Empire — us?  We denied its existence even while our soldiers were administering “water cures” (aka waterboarding) to recalcitrant Filipinos more than a century ago.  Heck, we even told ourselves we were liberating those same Filipinos, which leads to a second point: the U.S. not only denies its imperial ambitions, but shrouds them in a curiously American brand of Christianized liberation theology.  In it, American troops are never seen as conquerors or oppressors, always as liberators and freedom-bringers, or at least helpers and trainers.  There’s just enough substance to this myth (World War II and the Marshall Plan, for example) to hide uglier imperial realities.

Denying that we’re an empire while cloaking its ugly side in missionary-speak are two enduring aspects of the American brand of imperialism, and there’s a third as well, even if it’s seldom noted.  As the U.S. military garrisons the planet and its special operations forces alone visit more than 140 countries a year, American troops have effectively become the imperial equivalent of globetrotting tourists.  Overloaded with technical gear and gadgets (deadly weapons, intrusive sensors), largely ignorant of foreign cultures, they arrive eager to help and spoiling for action, but never (individually) staying long.  Think of them as the twenty-first-century version of the ugly American of Vietnam-era fame.

Cartoon Afghansistan

The ugliest of Americans these days may no longer be the meddling CIA operative of yesteryear; “he” may not even be human but a “made in America” drone. Think of such drones as especially unwelcome American tourists, cruising the exotic and picturesque backlands of the planet loaded with cameras and weaponry, ready to intervene in deadly ways in matters its operators, possibly thousands of miles away, don’t fully understand.  Like normal flesh-and-blood tourists, the drone “sees” the local terrain, “senses” local activity, “detects” patterns among the inhabitants that appear threatening, and then blasts away.  The drone and its operators, of course, don’t live in the land or grasp the nuances of local life, just as real tourists don’t.  They are literally above it all, detached from it all, and even as they kill, often wrongfully, they’re winging their way back home to safety.

Imperial Tourism Syndrome

Call it Imperial Tourist Syndrome, a bizarre American affliction that creates its own self-sustaining dynamic.  To a local, it might look something like this: U.S. forces come to your country, shoot some stuff up (liberation!), take some selfies, and then, if you’re lucky, leave (at least for a while).  If you’re unlucky, they overstay their “welcome,” surge around a bit and generate chaos until, sooner or later (in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, much, much later), they exit, not always gracefully (witness Saigon 1975 or Iraq 2011).

Drone death protest

And here’s the weirdest thing about this distinctly American version of the imperial: a persistent short-time mentality seems only to feed its opposite, wars that persist without end.  In those wars, many of the country’s heavily armed imperial tourists find themselves sent back again and again for one abbreviated tour of duty after another, until it seems less like an adventure and more like a jail sentence.

The paradox of short-timers prosecuting such long-term wars is irresolvable because, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the twenty-first century, those wars can’t be won.  Military experts criticize the Obama administration for lacking an overall strategy, whether in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere.  They miss the point.  Imperial tourists don’t have a strategy: they have an itinerary.  If it’s Tuesday, this must be Yemen; if it’s Wednesday, Libya; if it’s Thursday, Iraq.

Drone deaths

In this way, America’s combat tourists keep cycling in and out of foreign hotspots, sometimes on yearly tours, often on much shorter ones.  They are well-armed, as you’d expect in active war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan.  Like regular tourists, however, they carry cameras as well as other sensors and remain alert for exotic photo-shoots to share with their friends or the folks back home.  (Look here, a naked human pyramid in Abu Ghraib Prison!)

As tourists, they’re also alert to the possibility that on this particular imperial safari some exotic people may need shooting.  There’s a quip that’s guaranteed to win knowing chuckles within military circles: “Join the Army, travel to exotic lands, meet interesting people — and kill them.”  Originally an anti-war slogan from the Vietnam era, it’s become somewhat of a joke in a post-9/11 militarized America, one that quickly pales when you consider the magnitude of foreign body counts in these years, made more real (for us, at least) when accompanied by discomforting trophy photos of U.S. troops urinating on enemy corpses or posing with enemy body parts.

Here’s the bedrock reality of Washington’s twenty-first-century conflicts, though: no matter what “strategy” is concocted to fight them, we’ll always remain short-time tourists in long-term wars.

Imperial Tourism: A Surefire Recipe for Defeat Drone shooting missile

It’s all so tragically predictable.  When it’s imperial tourists against foreign “terrorists,” guess who wins?  No knock on American troops.  They have no shortage of can-do spirit.  They fight to win.  But when their imperial vacations (military interventions/invasions) morph into neocolonial staycations (endless exercises in nation-building, troop training, security assistance, and the like), they have already lost, no matter how many “having a great time” letters — or rather glowing progress reports to Congress — are sent to the folks back home.

By definition, tourists, imperial or otherwise, always want to go home in the end.  The enemy, from the beginning, is generally already home.  And no clever tactics, no COIN (or counterinsurgency) handbook, no fancy, high-tech weapons or robotic man-hunters are ever going to change that fundamental reality.

It was a dynamic already obvious five decades ago in Vietnam: a ticket-punching mentality that involved the constant rotation of units and commanders; a process of needless reinvention of the most basic knowledge as units deployed, bugged out, and were then replaced by new units; and the use of all kinds of grim, newfangled weapons and sensors, everything from Agent Orange and napalm to the electronic battlefield and the latest fighter planes and bombers — all for naught.  Under such conditions, even the U.S. superpower lacked staying power, precisely because it never intended to stay.  The “staying” aspect of the Vietnam War was often referred to in the U.S. as a “quagmire.”  For the Vietnamese, of course, their country was no “big muddy” that sucked you down.  It was home.  They had little choice in the matter; they stayed — and fought.

Combine a military with a tourist-like itinerary and a mentality to match, a high command that in its own rotating responsibilities lacks all accountability for mistakes, and a byzantine, top-heavy bureaucracy, and you turn out to have a surefire recipe for defeat.  And once again, in the twenty-first century, whether among the rank and file or at the very top, there’s little continuity or accountability involved in America’s military presence in foreign lands.  Commanders are constantly rotated in and out of war zones.  There’s often a new one every year.  (I count 17 commanders for the International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military coalition, since December 2001.) U.S. troops may serve multiple overseas tours, yet they are rarely sent back to the same area.  Tours are sequential, not cumulative, and so the learning curve exhibited is flat.

There’s a scene at the beginning of season four of “Homeland” in which ex-CIA chief Saul Berenson is talking with some four-star generals.  He says: “If we’d known in 2001 we were staying in Afghanistan this long, we’d have made some very different choices.  Right?  Instead, our planning cycles rarely looked more than 12 months ahead.  So it hasn’t been a 14-year war we’ve been waging, but a one-year war waged 14 times.”

True enough.  In Afghanistan and Iraq as well, the U.S. has fought sequentially rather than cumulatively.  Not surprisingly, such sequential efforts, no matter how massive and costly, simply haven’t added up.  It’s just one damn tour after another.

But the fictional Saul’s tagline on Afghanistan is more suspect: “I think we’re walking away with the job half done.” For him, as well as for the Washington establishment of this moment, the U.S. needs to stay the course (at least until 2017, according to President Obama’s recent announcement), during which time assumedly we’ll at long last stumble upon the El-Dorado-like long-term strategy in which America actually prevails.

Of course, the option that’s never on Washington’s table is the obvious and logical one: simply to end imperial tourism.  With apologies to Elton John, “sorry” is only the second hardest word for U.S. officials.  The first is “farewell.” 

Bumper Sticker VVAW

A big defeat (Vietnam, 1975) might keep imperial tourism fever in check for a while.  But give us a decade or three and Americans are back at it, humping foreign hills again, hoping against hope that this year’s trip will be better than the previous year’s disaster.

In other words, a sustainable long-term strategy for Afghanistan is precisely what the U.S. government has failed to produce for 14 years!  Why should 2015 or 2017 or 2024 be any different than 2002 or 2009 or indeed any other year of American involvement?

Unarmed Vietnamese Hide from US My Lai Assault

Unarmed Vietnamese Hide from US My Lai Assault

At some level, the U.S. military knows it’s screwed.  That’s why its commanders tinker so much with weapons and training and technology and tactics.  It’s the stuff they can control, the stuff that seems real in a way that foreign peoples aren’t (at least to us).  Let’s face it: past as well as current events suggest that guns and how to use them are what Americans know best.

But foreign lands and peoples?  We can’t control them.  We don’t understand them.  We can’t count on them.  They’re just part of the landscape we’re eternally passing through — sometimes as people to help and places to rebuild, other times as people to kill and places to destroy.  What they aren’t is truly real.  They are the tourist attractions of American war making, sometimes exotic, sometimes deadly, but (for us) strangely lacking in substance.

And that is precisely why we fail.

Vets against Afghan and Iraq wars

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Cheating Death

 (This is the Story Salon in Valley Village where I presented this true story last night, September 16 along with seven other story tellers to a lively crowd)

Story Salon

I am 16 and the quarterback on a high school football team in Japan

After football practice a week before our family was scheduled to return to America in October 1956, our eight-person carryall broke down a few miles from Yokohama. The engine flooded and the smell of gasoline nauseated me. I had to get outside. Our Japanese driver called the Navy base for a replacement and said, “New van arrive forty-five minute.”

Having been YoHi football team’s quarterback for two years, every teammate formed a habit of following my directions. While standing outside the vehicle and looking around, I leaned in and said, “Come outside now.” They scrambled out. I pointed, “See those tracks running around that hill? If we follow them, they’ll lead to a train station. We can catch one and walk to the Naval Station an hour or sooner than if we wait for a van.”

“Sounds good,” said Tex, a tough first-team tackle.

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“We go to find nearest train, Diajobu des ne?”(OK?) I said to the driver.

“Abunaio!” (Be careful!) “Kiotsketi kudasai.” (Take it easy, please,) the driver said mouth open and wrinkled brow.

Seven athletes aged fifteen to seventeen followed me. We scrambled over rough brush and found a pathway up a slope. In ten minutes we reached two sets of tracks. As we rounded the hill, a narrow tunnel appeared that resembled a black hole.

Night view of railway tunnel

Night view of railway tunnel

“This looks dangerous,” Tex said. “These trains race through the tunnel with little room for us.”

“Don’t worry. If a train comes on one track we can jump to the other,” I said.

“Yeah that’s right,” our fullback, Ron, said.

Two others nodded in agreement and the rest followed.

Running toward the tunnel, the setting red sun sent a glow behind me. The inside of the tunnel was barely visible. After racing into the tunnel, everyone followed at my heels. We had a foot of clearance on each wall in the dark cavity and two feet between the tracks. Dank darkness quickly enshrouded us. It seemed like we had fallen into a black soup as we slowed to avoid stumbling on the wooden planks now in utter blackness.

When we had advanced a third of the way, I sensed danger. A swift-moving train whizzed around the corner at us. A water droplet fell from the moldy ceiling into my eyes. After brushing it away, the flying mass of steel zoomed toward us. A looming light grew rapidly larger and a roaring rattling rumble followed. “Jump right!” I shouted. The blast of the train drowned out my voice. The train’s light revealed seven moving forms.

The steel thunderbolt’s warning bell changed from a high-pitched sound to a descending tone DING DING DINg DINg DIng Ding ding ding din din as it passed us with a deafening clattering at over ninety miles per hour.

Another booming train streaked at us on the opposing track! A horn howled and screamed as it approached. Its warning bell grew louder. Both trains doubled the blaring racket. My heart pounded; my breath heaved; I almost panicked. The heavy weight of shock choked me. I never should have urged my friends to enter the tunnel. Racing on the right track careful not to trip, we were nearly clobbered by the hurtling train from behind. Finally, the first train passed us with a WHOOSH.

“Jump left!” I screamed.

Could they hear me? The new train’s explosive reverberation was deafening. Its rotating light fluttered over our leaping forms. The unexpected steel blur jolted past at blazing speed and threw a forceful blast of hot muggy air at us. Expecting the worst I gazed back as all jumped in time to avoid disaster. The cars bumped and clattered as the steel wheels clickity–clacked and the wind rushed by our sweating faces.

Breathing an enormous sigh of relief, I was ecstatic from our good fortune. We had cheated death. We raced toward the silver light signaling the other entrance of the tunnel. In a mad dash for the growing sunbeams towards life, panting, sweating, I emerged and faced my friends. Tex and a few others stumbled out after me, exhaustion all over their faces. Sweat ran down their foreheads into their eyes and cheeks. They gasped for breath and stumbled toward me. Tex rushed up with fire in his eyes, “Jesus! What the fuck! Lavery, you almost got us killed!”

“Holy Shit! How did we make it?” Ron said.

“Ah Ah I’m so sorry,” passed emotionally out my mouth with fear written over my face. “I never should have led you guys into that tunnel.” We walked towards the station a few blocks away and huddled. “Hey guys. Please don’t tell anyone about this. Our parents won’t understand,” I said.

Tex and the others gradually agreed. We all shook on it.

On the train back, the tunnel train dodging affected me deeply. It made me appreciate life’s gifts I seemed to have taken for granted. Coming close to death not once, but twice in seconds, made me feel I must live more wisely. My thoughtless actions nearly killed eight young men. The shock of near death awakened a feeling of responsibility. That moment of awareness heightened my senses. I clasped my hands, felt the warmth of each finger intertwined, and breathed deeply. Time seemed to slow to a standstill so glad we were all alive.

The advice of my grandmother Ruthie, came back. Having noticed me rushing around as a teenager full of anxiety, “Slow down, Danny,” she said, “Find the harmony in nature. Life is precious.”

poster81113

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Whose history are we really talking about?

Hands on earth colorful peace avatarWhose history are we really talking about is a great question to focus on as it raises where we came from, our history, and everyone else's. We have learned from different teachers. The history many of us grew up with involved powerful kings, queens, wars, governments, and the development of parliamentary democracy with some historical and romantic novels. But for the British when England leaves the Catholic Church in 1534 major changes occurred after Henry the VIII that changed how we approach the subject.

Bumper Sticker VVAW

By the time we hit university things were already changing. Marxism had arrived bringing a heightened attention to the arc of class and economics. Many works like them have helped to revolutionize our view of the past, but surely began filling up with depth from new historical knowledge.

Buddha in Kamakura Avatar

Another force connected with women involved half the population followed by equally powerful questions about race and racism. The idea of history as a procession of dead white males written by live ones may sound ridiculous now, but the war to open up a wider perspective was a real one. So writers of history began demonstrating different point of emphasis and views. Soon the teaching of science and engineering became increasingly important.

Einstein world peace avatar

All exposes the current assault on the humanities within higher education as even more uncultured. The thinking goes like this: the study of history, English, philosophy or art doesn't help anyone get a job and does not contribute to the economy to the same degree that science or engineering or business studies do. I believe most of us say balderdash.

Vietnam Women and children huddled by tree at My Lai

The humanities, including history, teach people how to think analytically while at the same time appreciating innovation and creativity. Isn't that a good set of skills for most jobs?

police misconduct we can't Breathe poster 121014

One could wish that the historians were all more accurate. Who would dare mess with science in the way some fool with history.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

Toni Morrison brought to life the inner life of slavery, and pushed the modern reader to confront this reality. Another confronted the same difficult history from a white woman's perspective. One memoir produces anti-war feelings from gross misuse of power. Another accuses those who cringe at the horrors of Hiroshima as "hand wringers". Any society that doesn't pay proper attention to whose history we are exploring, and from what perspective, maybe starving his/her own imagination and missing an opportunity to participate spreading useful historical knowledge so mistakes of the past may be understood and avoided in the future.

sunrise over Fuji with Torii

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The Golden Rule and supporters present at the Onion Social Justice meeting

Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society Onion

The "Onion" where S.U.U.S. holds services, events, music, and presentations:

August 19, 2015 Helen Jacard spoke to the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society about the Golden Rule, a 30-foot ketch and its crew, Capt. Albert Bigelow, William Huntington, George Willoughby, and Orion Sherwood, which was stopped by the Coast Guard from interfering with nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands in 1958. They were part of an international movement to stop the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. They were arrested at Honolulu, Hawaii.

Another peace keeping yacht, The Phoenix, led by Earl Reynolds, Skipper, Barbara (wife), Ted (son), Jessica (daughter), and Nick Nakami, crew member, sailed The Phoenix, into the nuclear test zone to protest nuclear testing in 1958 and were arrested. Earl was a physical anthropologist whom the Atomic Energy Commission sent to Hiroshima to research the effects of radiation on children. In 1961 they sailed to Vladivostok, Russia, with Thomas C, Yoneda replacing Nick as a crew member to share their message to the Soviet Union. For extraordinary civil disobedience, they were branded as traitors in the U. S., while Japan held them up as national heroes.

The Golden Rule was resurrected, repaired, with the help of Garberville Chapter of Veterans For Peace and other West Coast Chapters formed a movement to bring her back to sail again on June 20th 2015 carrying their peace and anti-nuclear weapon message for the next two months in California (set forth below). They plan to undertake a ten-year peacemaking voyage around North America challenging military solutions to the world problems. Helen is a part of the crew and member of Women International League For Peace and Freedom.

Albert Bigelow, is author of the book, Voyage of the Golden Rule, and a former naval officer in WWII who resigned his commission a month before he was eligible for a pension. “To Russia with Love,” An American Family Challenges Nuclear Testing, by Jessica Reynolds Renshaw, follows the Phoenix on its mission to spread the truth about radiation from nuclear testing and finding peaceful solutions rather than military ones.

Golden Rule Schedule:

8/ 27-29 in Long Beach

8/30 Arlington Memorial

8/31-9/ 1 Marina Del Rey

9/3-9/19 Seal Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Monterey, Santa Cruz

9/21-10/10 San Francisco Bay

10/12 Morro Bay/ Ft. Bragg

  Bomber Hiroshima Hiroshima Mushroom

(Never, ever, again!)

VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences.  www.danielclavery.com. He regularly attends the Onion presentations since 1980

 

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