Cheney, Kilcullen and Captain Stubing Walk into a Publisher’s Office

I’m trying to utilize Buddhist practices in my life. The concept of Right Speech is one I like, but it is one I am really struggling with, and, sometimes, to be humorous, one I find necessary to disregard. Forgive me, I genuinely do dislike snark and want to be more effective in my communication, but I just could not pass this up:

In Barnes and Noble today I found a book by former Vice President Dick Cheney on matters of the heart, another on war by former counter-insurgency proponent and now counter-insurgency apologist, David Kilcullen, and one by the guy who played the skipper of The Love Boat, on love, or boating, or love boating, or whatever. Regardless, if I had to choose between reading a book on hearts by a heartless Cheney, both figuratively and literally, a book on war by a strategist integral in our failed war policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a book by the most famous pretend cruise boat captain of all time, I’m going with Captain Stubing every time. Every time, no doubt.

Actually, Gavin MacLeod’s book is a testament to his struggles in life, his alcoholism and his near suicide. Telling his story is a brave and noble effort and will help many more people than Cheney’s psychopathic, megalomanic and cowardly policies, or Kilcullen’s romantic fantasies of saving little brown people with smart war conducted by munificent white people. MacLeod is bringing peace to himself and to others, cutting through the lies of his life, and helping others to see and cut through their own personal lies and live fuller, happier and more peaceful lives. Cheney and Kilcullen’s books, and the lives they have led, in very stark contrast, stand to only perpetuate lies of compassion, war and, most disturbingly, the notion of compassionate war.

Peace, and again, apologies for the snark.

Cheney on matters of the heart, Killcullen on war, MacLeod on love: I'm going with the latter as the credible voice.
Cheney on matters of the heart, Killcullen on war, MacLeod on love: I’m going with the latter as the credible voice.


Pouring out that Bottle

I poured a bottle of Wild Turkey out in the VA parking lot this afternoon. It was a big bottle, a handle, $50 worth of bourbon. It had been in my car for the better part of two days, after I bought it at a liquor store off of I-85 at the tail of a long drive. I had convinced myself of the need for my old friendship with alcohol and was warmed by the opportunity to accept the comfort of the misery of remembrances that the alcohol would release. For so many years alcohol was my only friend, the only one I opened up to, the only one that allowed me to be myself, the only one I could acknowledge my failings, my guilt, my sorrow, my anger to.

I was excited to get back home. To sit in my living room, listen to my music, with all those triggers in so many sad and angry songs, and to drink that bottle. True friendship, true understanding, true tolerance. Alcohol would numb me, alcohol would accept me, alcohol would say it was ok. I was going to happily and eagerly throw my life, and my soul, back into a deep, black, cold hole. And I would revel in it.

But then I didn’t. The thought of an early dentist appointment the next day reminded me of my past life, where I would easily neglect such appointments and rapidly dismiss responsibilities to both myself and others. A timely phone call from my girlfriend and the quickness with which I lied to her, telling her everything was ok and that I was just going to watch football that evening, cut me open. Was I going to go back to that life? Hadn’t I given alcohol enough of a chance? Wasn’t over four years of self-medication and self-destruction enough of an opportunity for booze? My attempts to relieve my suffering through alcohol had failed. Without a doubt, alcohol had failed me. The bottle stayed in my car when I got home and I called Megan.

Next Friday, November 1st, will be my twenty-first month of sobriety, or attempted sobriety, to be honest and clear. It has not been easy and I don’t expect that handle of Turkey will be the last bottle I will have to empty indecorously down a drain, into a toilet or over a parking lot. But there is no other way.

The most important thing I have heard from friends, what my therapists have taught me, and what I have learned myself, is this process of recovery, this attempt to take my life back, is a long, hard, tortuous effort. Bad days come less frequently now, but they still do come, and when they do, they hurt. Faltering and falling down, but recomposing oneself and standing again, is the very essence of this process. Of course, it’s not possible on your own, you need others, like a psychologist who will tell you, very sternly, to pour that bottle out; and it won’t work unless you build a life, a good life, a happy life, one that is worth the struggle and separate from the distress brought on by your own personal history.

Last spring, a Vietnam Veteran in my group told me: “if I hear someone in church saying he doesn’t have the taste anymore for alcohol, then I know he either never had the taste or he’s lying.” My friends, that taste for alcohol doesn’t go away, its alleged friendship doesn’t ever make good on its promises, and its acceptance of your suffering is illusory and cruel.

Again, I expect to fall down again. If you are going through this process with me, then you most likely will too. But I know there are others to help me up and there are others who will help you up too, including you and me.


Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars: Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Jeremy Scahill’s politically important and emotionally exhausting film, Dirty Wars, is now available on iTunes, Netflix, Amazon and through a whole bunch of other video services that I have no idea how to access: Google, XBox, Playstation, Sundance…..

A few years ago, Jeremy interviewed me and a little bit of that interview made it into the film. We spoke for a couple of hours at a bar and Jeremy bought me a few beers. I had forgotten about the film until last spring when Jeremy contacted me about helping with the film’s roll out and having me speak at screenings.

I attended the film’s premiere in May in Washington, DC. Many of my friends attended, thankfully. As Dirty Wars deepened and darkened my mind with remembrances, my friends, almost all of them not veterans, were a buoy to me. It was a stunning and nauseating ninety minutes. I had to leave the theater at one point.

If you are surviving PTSD, depression and suicidality you do a good job staying away from triggers, trying not to let thoughts metastasize and take over your life; allowing the memories to remain just memories, not haunting or demanding action, but just present in your life, a part of your life, but not your life. But then you sit in a dark theater and you watch, listen and feel a story told so compassionately and so beautifully by a man who knows this story, which is also your story, so well. He lives it too. His film, his testament, makes you remember your obligations.

More than your story or Jeremy’s story, Dirty Wars is the story of thousands of nameless and voiceless men, women and children. Children of God, brothers and sisters in humanity, those who our wars are supposed to bring freedom and liberty to, unlucky bastards, whatever you want to call them, the truth is these people are suffering under an American political narrative of good vs evil and a policy of perpetual war that benefits a one trillion dollar a year national security Leviathan and those who enjoy and profit from the romance of war and the fear of terrorism.

Thank you Jeremy for witnessing and giving voice to those nameless and voiceless thousands, those mortal souls and their corporeal families destroyed by war, unknown to our society and ignored by our media.

Please watch Dirty Wars and please ask your friends to watch too. Give voice to the voiceless.


Dead Eyes in a Live Face, my friend’s poem:

My good friend, Fareed, was born in Afghanistan. As a young boy his family fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Fareed has returned numerous times to Afghanistan since 2001; in a variety of roles, all attempts to heal, both himself and his country. He wrote me this poem and sent it to me over the weekend:

Dead eyes in a live face

An orchard





A garden of Eden

What sadness reflects in

Those once sunny eyes

back at

Our souls!


Who knew we would feel

Twenty thousand leagues

Under the sea of our souls

move within us

Telling us to hide our faces

And cry out to Zion

These orchard dwellers

In the garden

Of our Eden

They are us

And we are them.



Dead Eyes in a Live Face, Ours or Theirs?

From a very good and close friend who has spent her share of time in Afghanistan and Iraq:

Was it their eyes looking at you?  Or sometimes I think it was/is my eyes looking at them.

I don’t know my friend, I don’t know. But I do know we share this suffering and that our friendship will never end. I will always take comfort in that, even if I don’t tell you often enough.

Dead Eyes in a Live Face

Sometimes Twitter conversations turn into something meaningful. Here’s part of a conversation I had with a new friend on Twitter today. Some brief and twitter-style thoughts on guilt and responsibility over civilian deaths in war as well as this photo:

Payments to the relatives of dead civilians, Afghanistan, 2009.

I’m in the blue shirt. It’s Afghanistan 2009. We are paying villagers after one of our Apache gunships killed 5 or 6 members of a family in an orchard. You would think a detail like that would stick, that you would remember how many men, woman and children were killed, exactly how many. But I don’t. You do enough deployments and details, bodies, tend to blur.

I’ve seen plenty of dead eyes in a live face in my life. They were here this day, in this mountain village, dead eyes in a live face, looking back at us as we gave them money for their people we killed. This is war and it will never be any different.



12th Anniversary of Afghan War

I provided these comments to the Institute for Public Accuracy today on the 12th Anniversary of the US War in Afghanistan:

It is fitting that as we pass the 12-year mark of the U.S. and Western invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the U.S. government is shut down, our economy, education system and infrastructure continues their persistent degradation, and the American people, for the first time ever, now believe their children will not be better off than they. The failure of the United States’ war in Afghanistan, a failure that has been obvious for quite some time, like our own domestic failings, is a testament to a broken American political order and a $1 trillion a year national security Leviathan. Of course, the Afghan people are no closer to becoming a country at peace than at any time since the 1970s and the United States must and should understand its responsibility and culpability in their continuing lives of death, loss and chaos.

Similarly, in Libya and Somalia, again violence and military force is proving not to be a solution to terrorism. We have to understand the root causes. And many times these root causes are local and regional issues we have a poor grasp of — and sometimes those root causes are grievances against U.S. policies. In Somalia, we keep losing sight of the fact that al-Shabab has not conducted operations anywhere that was not related to occupation of Somalia, this is true for their operations in Uganda and their recent attack in Kenya. So much of this is tied to the U.S. sponsored Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. In Libya, our support in the overthrow of Gaddafi’s government, to include the killing of the man that the U.S. State Department had defined as a reliable ally in the war on terror, has led to continued chaos and a vacuum in government. Two years later we find ourselves having to kidnap a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. How can we say our operations in Libya to have been successful or a model for future operations as is so often described by administration officials or pundits?

Peace. Cut through all the Lies and there it is, right in front of you.

It should be solemnly noted, again, that for the US it is the 12th anniversary of the US troop presence in Afghanistan, but for Afghans war has been unending since the 1970s. Peace to those generations of Afghans who have known nothing but war.