The Divine that Exists In the Resistance

Update: I had this essay posted by Common Dreams:

I have a benefit tonight that I am speaking at in support of Palestine. In the toast I am to give, I will reference other struggles against oppression and occupation, particularly those resistance struggles that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to stand with in solidarity this past year: in Okinawa, at Standing Rock and in Palestine.

For someone like me, who had professionally studied war and insurgencies for years, and then executed such knowledge on behalf of the US government in support of the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, being on the other side of the rifle was heartbreaking and difficult, as seeing the military and police enforcing the racist occupations, political oppression and environmental destruction was a mirror held up to me, reflecting my own past, my own mistakes, my own collaboration with greed, hate and subjugation. Being allowed the opportunity to stand with these resistance movements was rewarding and it was healing, as it was a form of recovery for my moral injury and guilt from the wars. I can never undo or repair what I took part in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I can, going forward in my life, live a life working with others for peace and justice, both at home and abroad.

Veterans For Peace members march in Hebron, Occupied West Bank, February 2016. Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace
Members of Veterans For Peace and Palestinian Youth Against Settlements leader Issa Amro intercede with the Israeli police and military to stop firing in Hebron, Occupied West Bank, February 2017. Photo credit: Sabah Media

The commonness and similarities that exist between these resistance movements are many: a firm belief in and understanding of non-violence; the use of music and song; and the graciousness and openness to outsiders, like myself and other white veterans of the American military whose relationship to the occupation forces and powers cannot be ignored or dismissed, but are understood as the actions of the colonial and imperial powers and not the actions, will or soul of the individual soldier, or Marine in my case.

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Veterans For Peace members and Okinawan resistance members block the road in Okinawa to protect the Yanbaru forest from US military construction, September 2016. Photo credit: Mike Hastie, Veterans For Peace.
Members of Veterans For Peace and Okinawan resistance members resisting attempts by Japanese police to move them as they protect the Yanbaru forest from US military construction, September 2016. Photo credit: Mike Hastie, Veterans For Peace

There is also something that runs very deep, is very true, and that exists within all these resistance movements. Something prime and underlining, a force that is infinite and enduring is the intangible reality that exists in all of the men, women and children who are struggling for their society’s freedom, for the preservation of their land, water and air, and for the chance for their children and grandchildren to live lives not held in obeyance to the guns and violence of a foreign, abusive and repressive power. I have no other choice for my description of what I witnessed and stood among than to use the word divine to explain what it is that moves, sustains and carries forward these movements and people. Words like justice, peace, freedom, and safety have their well deserved places as descriptions of what these movements strive for, but it is the word divine that I come back to when I think of what it is which motivates, maintains and upholds these movements and what it is that links them together across continents, religions and races, and, ultimately, time.

Police start to move on the people in the tipi.
Tarak Kauff and Matthew Hoh of Veterans For Peace participate in a non-violent action with Native American water protectors to block construction of the DAPL pipeline, October 2016. Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace
Tarak gets up.
Veterans For Peace members Matthew Hoh and Tarak Kauff are arrested along with Native American water protectors while conducting a non violent action to block the DAPL pipeline, October 2016.  Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace.

I saw this again in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, where myself and other white allies escorted black students from Howard University through the city streets. There was something divine, again a better word I stumble trying to find, behind the purposes of those students from Howard, a very existent and timeless connection to something beyond the human experience that animates our desires for truth, justice, equality and peace. This force, this beyond-human force, ties together these movements now, and ties them to the movements of the past, to their ancestors who suffered and were persecuted in their struggles of liberation, fights for peace, and marches for equality, whether there be a direct lineage of descent to those ancestors or an ancestry consisting of purpose and principle removed by epochs of historical and geographic separation.

I’m an intellectual, logical and rational atheist a good 6 1/2 days a week, but what I experienced in Okinawa, Standing Rock, Palestine and Charlottesville these past twelve months moved me with a force much greater than any and all of the spirited nationalist formulations or conceptions of brotherhood I ever encountered or beheld in my time as a Marine or while working for the US government. This force, this divine presence, cannot be discounted, diminished or dismissed, but is as factual and proven to me in its effect and purpose as any rifle I ever held, any money I was ever paid, or any exceptionalist American myth I ever consumed.

It is why anyone who has taken part in these movements can receive healing from their own sins in war, as I have; it is why even those who have been silenced by jailing or with bullets and bombs have never truly been defeated – lost to us with great sorrow and grief, yes, of course – but not defeated; and it is why these movements will ultimately be successful, because the divine that is the foundation of these movements and these people cannot be extinguished, cannot be undone, bought or quieted, as this spirit will always carry forward this generation and subsequent ones.

To see and understand some of the divine involvement that is present in the people of Palestine and the Palestinian Popular Resistance movement, please watch Chris Smiley’s latest video of the Veterans For Peace delegation I participated in to Palestine earlier this year.

Wage Peace.

Counterpunching the Lies on Afghanistan

In anticipation of President Trump’s announcement this evening on Afghanistan I had the following essay published on Counterpunch:

“There has never been progress by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, unless you are asking the U.S. military contractors or the Afghan drug barons, of whom an extremely large share are our allies in the Afghan government, militias and security forces, there has only been suffering and destruction. American politicians, pundits and generals will speak about “progress” made by the 70,000 American troops put into Afghanistan by President Obama beginning in 2009, along with an additional 30,000 European troops and 100,000 private contractors, however the hard and awful true reality is that the war in Afghanistan has only escalated since 2009, never stabilizing or deescalating; the Taliban has increased in strength by tens of thousands, despite tens of thousands of casualties and prisoners; and American and Afghan casualties have continued to grow every year of the conflict, with U.S. casualties declining only when U.S. forces began to withdraw in mass numbers from parts of Afghanistan in 2011, while Afghan security forces and civilians have experienced record casualties every year since those numbers began to be kept by the UN.

Similarly, any progress in reconstructing or developing Afghanistan has been found to be near non-existent despite the more than $100 billion spent by the United States on such efforts by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). $100 billion, by the way, is more money than was spent on the Marshall Plan when that post-WWII reconstruction plan is put into inflation adjusted dollars. Oft repeated claims, such as millions of Afghan school girls going to school, millions of Afghans having access to improved health care and Afghan life expectancy dramatically increasing, and the construction of an Afghan job building economy have been exposed as nothing more than public relations lies. Displayed as modern Potemkin Villages to visiting journalists and congressional delegations and utilized to justify continued budgets for the Pentagon and USAID, and, so, to allow for more killing, like America’s reconstruction program in Iraq, the reconstruction program in Afghanistan has proven to be a failure and its supposed achievements shown to be virtually non-existent, as documented by multiple investigations by SIGAR, as well as by investigators and researchers from organizations such as the UN, EU, IMF, World Bank, etc.

Tonight, the American people will hear again the great lie about the progress the American military once made in Afghanistan after “the Afghan Surge”, just as we often hear the lie about how the American military had “won” in Iraq. In Iraq it was a political compromise that brought about a cessation of hostilities for a few short years and it was the collapse of the political balance that had been struck that led to the return to the violence of the last several years. In Afghanistan there has never even been an attempt at such a political solution and all the Afghan people have seen in the last eight years, every year, has been a worsening of the violence.

Americans will also hear tonight how the U.S. military has done great things for the Afghan people. You would be hard pressed to find many Afghans outside of the incredibly corrupt and illegitimate government, a better definition of a kleptocracy you will not find, that the U.S. keeps in power with its soldiers and $35 billion a year, who would agree with the statements of the American politicians, the American generals and the pundits, the latter of which are mostly funded, directly or indirectly, by the military companies. It is important to remember that for three straight elections in Afghanistan the United States government has supported shockingly fraudulent elections, allowing American soldiers to kill and die while presidential and parliamentary elections were brazenly stolen. It is also important to remember that many members of the Afghan government are themselves warlords and drug barons, many of them guilty of some of the worst human rights abuses and war crimes, the same abuses of which the Taliban are guilty, while the current Ghani government, and the previous Karzai government, have allowed egregious crimes to continue against women, including laws that allow men to legally rape their wives.

Whatever President Trump announces tonight about Afghanistan, a decision he teased on Twitter, as if the announcement were a new retail product launch or television show episode, as opposed to the somber and painful reality of war, we can be assured the lies about American progress in Afghanistan will continue, the lies about America’s commitment to human rights and democratic values will continue, the profits of the military companies and drug barons will also continue, and of course the suffering of the Afghan people will surely continue.”

Recently, I’ve also done two interviews on Afghanistan:


Finally, at the very end of this post you will find my first contribution to Will Griffin’s The Peace Report. Will’s Peace Report now has nearly 90,000 followers on Facebook!


Last Friday, I was invited by Maggie Martin, the co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), to head to Charlottesville, VA to link up with Maggie, other IVAW members, The Ruckus Society and local Charlottesville organizers and residents as they met up with students from Howard University. The students from Howard University, about fifty young men and women, nearly all African-Americans, traveled down from Washington, DC to pay their respects to the city of Charlottesville, and to Heather Heyer and the many people who were injured in the violence of the previous week. IVAW members and local Charlottesville residents, all of whom were white, were asked to walk in solidarity with the students, and to escort them, as the fear of the students being harassed or attacked was an honest and present reality. We were honored to do so, and together, as a group, I really do feel that we all waged a bit of Peace together last Friday in Charlottesville.


I took some video for Will and he put together a short film to highlight the students from Howard University as they visited Charlottesville, the site of the attack, and the renamed Heather Heyer Park.

Here’s a link to the video on Facebook and here it is on Youtube:


RIP Heather.

Wage Peace.


Stop Calling Them Nazis

UPDATE:  If you would like to donate to help those men and women who brought down the statue of the Confederate soldier in Durham with legal costs you can donate here: Durham Solidarity Center

These men and women are Americans. Nazis were Germans. Call them what they are in Charlottesville: White Supremacists, Klansmen, Confederates, Racists. When we call them Nazis, we associate them with the Other, we disassociate them from ourselves, from the United States, from our laws and from our history. It may be easier for some to use the word Nazi, it may ring more loudly and play more dramatically, particularly for the media, but the truth is these are our people, we need to own them, particularly white people, and so we must call them by the names of who and what they are and not give them names that make it easier for us to distance and disassociate ourselves.

If I use the word Nazi, I am protecting myself and those in my white American community, because the word is narrow and strictly defined; it’s limited, it’s grotesque, it’s hard for me to think of anyone I know whom I am related to by blood or by affection that I could fit into such a characterization, into such a costume. But, if I use a word other than Nazi, something broader, something more open, something more familiar, something more American, now I can think of people I know.

It is my fellow white brothers and sisters who have used the words and phrases that underline and validate the 60 million strong Trump movement that doesn’t just step and march underneath the banner of racism, but also beneath the flags of misogyny, homophobia and nationalism. The riposte from them will be that those historical elements and those openly racist personas apply to the fringes of the 60 million, because those I know who chose to vote for Trump did so because of tax cuts and jobs, want a wall because of jobs, want to privatize schools to allow for better economic competition etc, etc, etc… Ah, but of course…However, it is now necessary to quote the horribly influential, maniacally capable, and devilishly intelligent Lee Atwater, the man behind Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, a man who would not even be 70 years old today if he were still alive; imagine what Lee Atwater’s role would have been over the last 26 years if he had not died when he was 40? You think Karl Rove was bad? Karl Rove was an ersatz Lee Atwater for George Bush the Younger…

Lee Atwater explaining the Republican Southern Strategy, as quoted by Alexander Lamis in 1981:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”’

What it takes to defeat those marching in torchlight in Charlottesville, who are not the descendants of those of the Nuremberg rallies, but rather are American men and women walking in the steps of and with the purposes of those who committed the atrocities of the slave plantations and the Native American reservations, is to stand like those who opposed the Confederates, the Klansmen, and the Racists in Charlottesville. More so, it is to go beyond that and to speak with those who are carrying those torches, again particularly those of us who are white, in order to get them to extinguish the flames on the torches. Best would be to speak with these men and women to convince them that there is a better path to walk and that there is a community to join that does not require the carrying of torches, a community that does not have a history of hate, exclusion, and genocide, and that there is a community that fights, that marches, and that sacrifices to achieve and maintain true freedom and equality for all people.

To go farther though we have to recognize the injustices that are resident in the political system itself, and just as Northern businessmen in the first half of the 19th century were in no hurry to see slavery abolished in the United States, despite the very fanciful myth of an all encompassing and altruistic abolitionism in the North, so it must be recognized that the neoliberal policies of the Democratic Party of the last 30 years have shattered the lives of hundreds of millions of peoples both internally and externally to the United States, most predominately people of color. With this we must abandon old political loyalties, we must eschew political sensibilities, and we must break open a new economic and social justice for all people, because believing that the established political classes and authorities will do so is simply just insane.

The foundational documents that created the United States established our country within a political and economic system of racism. The electoral college system and its attendant Three/Fifths Compromise, that thing which gave us Donald Trump last November, not the Russians and Putin, is one of such pillars of that state system of slavery that to this day remains a functioning part of the US Constitution, our political process and our overt society.

Fortunately, protest and people coming together to change the system and our country for the better have also been a part of America’s history. I was in Chicago this past week at the Veterans For Peace convention, returning last night, and so I missed some very just, honorable and righteous people pulling down a statue in Durham, NC, a statue that had been dedicated to the men who were the guardians of slavery, a statue that should never have been raised. I happen to know one or two of those people who performed that toppling, better people I don’t know.

I believe in non-violence. Removing a statue that celebrates the guardians of slavery is a worthy and defendable non-violent action, and it is something I will always endorse.

My friends, let’s speak true words to one another and let’s wage peace.