Militarism Is One of the True Religions of the United States

An interview I did with Mohsen Abdelmoumen and the American Herald Tribune:

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You are a member of the Center for International Policy. Can you tell us about the missions of this organization and what is its impact on American politics?

Matthew Hoh: The Center for International Policy (CIP) is a think tank located in Washington, DC that was established in the late 1970s chiefly to oppose US military policies in Central America. We still maintain that original purpose, of opposing US militarism, but we also work on issues involving South America, the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia. We also focus quite a bit on US military spending and the militarism that encompasses all aspects of American policy, culture and society. We are proud to say that our mission is to “advance a sustainable, just and peaceful world.”

One of the things that set CIP apart from most of the other think tanks in Washington, DC and the rest of the United States is that we truly are non-partisan, in that we are not affiliated with any political party. Additionally, most of the money we raise and we operate on comes not from corporations, but rather from individuals and foundations who believe in our mission of resisting American militarism and supporting human rights.

We work with members of Congress on a consistent basis, as well as appear in the media in order to have an effect on American policy. Many of our members also conduct research on issues of militarism, human rights and social justice in order to help educate and inform the public and lawmakers.

You were also senior official at the State Department as Director of the Study Group on Afghanistan and you provided reports that went directly to the Secretary of State of the United States. As an expert, how do you see the evolution of the political process in Afghanistan?

The Afghanistan Study Group was part of CIP and not a part of the State Department. I was, however, a State Department official stationed in Afghanistan in 2009.

Unfortunately, I have not seen any positive evolution or change in the political system or process in Afghanistan since 2009. What we have seen are three national elections that have been ruled to be grossly illegitimate and fraudulent by outside observers, but have been validated and supported by the American government through the presence of tens of thousands of soldiers and the spending of tens of billions of dollars.
We have seen the creation of extra-constitutional positions in the government, such as the Chief Executive Officer position occupied by Abdullah Abdullah, which was done at the behest of the American government. Additionally, bargains and compromises that were brokered by the American government in an attempt to create more a more inclusive government, reduce corruption and heal fractures among the political bloc that once supported Hamid Karzai and the American presence has failed to achieve those things. Corruption is still the dominant feature of the Afghan government, and the political support for the rule of Kabul has deteriorated and splintered by the corruption and the machinations of the Karzai and now Ghani governments.
Most importantly, the political process, by being so corrupt, by seating successive governments that won by fraud and by disenfranchising various political communities, has alienated many, many Afghans, and not just those Pashtuns who ally themselves with the Taliban, from the government in Kabul. This has allowed for greater support for militia commanders and warlords outside of Kabul, as well as the Taliban, and has allowed the war to progress with no real hopes for reconciliation, negotiations or a cease fire any where in the near future. (By supporting and growing a kleptocracy, a system of have and have nots, that system has by its nature and necessity produced more people out of the system than people in the system every year. This causes resentment, grievances and a desire to share in the spoils and gifts of American occupation that leads to greater violence, more political chaos and a dearth of hope for the future).

You have been the highest official to resign from your duties at the State Department. Can you explain to us what was the disagreement that led you to resign?

I had been twice to Iraq prior to my time in Afghanistan, and I had been working on issues of the wars since 2002 when I was in the Pentagon as a Marine Corps officer. I could no longer go along with the killing of the war, and the lies that propped up that killing. I saw in the Afghan government the worst excesses that I had seen in the Iraqi government and I knew the Afghan government in Kabul had no real or true interest in coming to a peace with the Taliban and those in the Afghan insurgency.

I also saw that Barack Obama’s administration cared only for the political value of Afghanistan in terms of American politics and had no real interest in the well being of the Afghan people. I also knew the amount of money that American corporations were making off of the war and how that influenced American policy and the escalation of the war. Finally, I also knew that American generals and civilians tasked with overseeing the war were more interested in preserving American empire, as well as their own careers and legacies, than achieving peace or ending the suffering of the Afghan people.

In addition to being a diplomat, you were a soldier and served in Iraq as a commander in the Marine Corps. In your opinion, was the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 justified?

No, the war in Iraq was not justified. There were many reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, but none of them were morally valid, internationally legal or had to do with the safety and security of the American people, or the well being of the Iraqi people. The reasons were many and included of course President Bush’s desire to win a war to win reelection in the United States in 2004, people in the government and foreign policy community who believed in removing Saddam Hussein to “democratize and Americanize” the Middle East for reasons of American Empire and hegemony, the influence of Israeli policy and thought on American policy, Iraq’s large and vast oil reserves, and the influence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Nations.

In your opinion, should the Bush administration be accountable in particular to a court for the crimes it committed in Iraq?

Yes. Without elaboration, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Bush Administration and those in charge should be held responsible. It is as simple as that.

You are a privileged witness as a diplomat and as a superior officer of the war in Iraq. You describe what happened during the intervention in Iraq as a vast racket.Can you tell us why?

The amounts of money that were made on the Iraq war by American corporations and individuals were enormous. In terms of direct spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the two are inseparable in many ways including in how the financing and the money making occurred), the direct costs of the wars are nearly $1.8 trillion dollars. Now these are just direct costs. Adding indirect costs of the war, such as healthcare for veterans and interest payments on debt, we see that the long term costs of the war may reach $6 trillion dollars. Again, this is just for the wars directly. At the same time the budget for the Pentagon this coming year will be $700 billion, which is 10 times more than Russia and 3 times more than China spend on their militaries, and this $700 billion does not include the money we spend on our intelligence agencies, healthcare for veterans, homeland security or interest payments for past defense and war debt (next year the United States will spend about $115 billion just on interest and debt payments for past wars and military spending).

This money primarily goes to American corporations that then put money into funding politicians in Congress, as well as to funding think tanks and universities that help to promote the policies that foster and sustain America’s wars in the Muslim world and America’s massive military budget. This funding process is cyclical and the instability and violence that American militarism, intervention and occupation fosters and sustains is utilized as continued justification by American politicians and generals for more military spending.

On a another level, what I witnessed by my presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the mass amounts of money that are injected into these war zones fuel the corruption and that the massive amounts of money being received by those who are loyal or collaborating with the American forces provides no incentive for the Afghans or Iraqis working with the Americans to seek peace, reconciliation or a cease fire with their adversaries. So long as the Americans are keeping them in power and making them rich, there is no sense in pursuing an end to the conflict, an end to the American occupation/presence/influence or to seek reconciliation.

You are a member of the Board of Directors for Council for a Livable World and an Advisory Board Member for Expose Facts. Can you explain to our readership what the missions of these organizations are?

I’m sorry, but you must have seen an older biography for me, as I am no longer with the Council for a Livable World.

I am, however, an advisory board member for Veterans For Peace, Expose Facts, World Beyond War and the North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture. I am also an associate member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. All of these organizations seek to encourage peace and an end to America’s wars overseas as well as an end to the wars that we have in the United States, especially the oppression of people of color in the US.

Veterans For Peace is an international organization dedicated to informing people about the true costs and realities of war.

Expose Facts is an organization comprised of many former government officials who encourage whistleblowing and members of government, the military and corporations who are witness to wrongdoing to come forward and report this wrongdoing to the public.

World Beyond War is an international organization devoted to restructure how our world is shaped and to get people to believe and understand that a peaceful world is possible.

North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture is the only organization of its kind in the US. It is the only organization that is devoted wholly to researching, documenting and publicizing the role of the state of North Carolina in the American torture practices under President Bush. The desire is to hold people accountable for the torture that was conducted.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is an organization of former government and military members who were either intelligence officers or utilized intelligence in their careers (associate members). The purpose of VIPS is to provide alternative recommendations and views to the President of the United States, and to the media, that he is not getting from the American intelligence services.

While whistleblowers inform public opinion on various issues by taking major risks, don’t you think it is more than necessary to launch initiatives or even create a global specific program to protect whistleblowers?

Yes, one of the things I would like to see created is a fund to help whistleblowers pay for the very high costs that they incur by becoming whistleblowers. Whistleblowers lose their jobs, have expensive legal fees and may go for years without having the money necessary to support their families and pay their bills. This is a tactic used by the government and corporations to frighten people into not becoming whistleblowers. I would like to see a fund started that would help whistleblowers pay for these expenses and not be forced into bankruptcy and insolvency because they followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing.

You are also a man committed to the cause of the Palestinian people; you participated in a trip to Palestine with Veteran for Peace to see the conditions in which the Palestinians live. Can you tell us about this action?

This was a very important trip for me as spending 18 days with the people of Palestine and the popular resistance to the Israeli occupation was extremely moving and powerful. You can read essays and books or watch documentaries and films about the suffering of the Palestinian people, but until you are with them, you don’t really understand the horror and the tragedy of the Israeli occupation. As an American it was very important for me to go and stand in solidarity with my Palestinian brothers and sisters particularly as my country is often the sole supporter of Israel and gives the Israeli military nearly $11 million dollars a day in assistance.

The United States is an unconditional supporter of Israel. How do you explain that?

The main reason for this is because of the perverted and corrupted political system in the United States that allows money to influence politics so greatly. The United States would not be such an unconditional supporter of Israel if not for the influence of money provided to American politicians, primarily through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but also through other sources. Without this overwhelming purchasing of politicians I don’t believe Israel would receive the support it does from the United States and I don’t think that Israel would be able to continue its occupation of the Palestinian people and the crimes against them.

In your opinion, what is the contribution of veterans like you, especially through Veteran for Peace, to support the resistance to US imperialism around the world?

The most important things American veterans can do is to speak openly and plainly about what they saw during their time in the military, what they took part in the wars, and what they truly believe the purposes of the wars and the American military is. It is hard in America for people to speak against the military and the wars, because we have a culture that celebrates war, violence and the military, but veterans must find the courage to do so because through their witness and testimony people can understand the realities and the truths of America’s wars, empire and imperialism.

It is important too for American veterans to stand in solidarity with those resistance movements both outside the United States and internal to the United States that are fighting against American militarism, occupation and intervention. This includes standing against client governments of the United States like Israel, South Korea and Japan. It is also necessary for veterans to stand with the oppressed communities of the United States; with Native Americans, Latino Americans and Black Americans. All of the oppressed people within the United States are victims of America’s militarism and continue to be oppressed by a system that provides overwhelming economic, civic and societal benefits to the wealthy white classes while continuing to punish people of color through mass incarceration, police violence, deportation, economic disadvantage, inadequate health care, poorer education, etc. Such treatment of people of color would not have been possible in the past without the American military and the effects of militarism on the white people of the United States, and now with militarized police remains essential in continuing the oppression. Much of this oppression finds its praxis and its implementation through the culture of violence in the United States that is a direct consequence of the militarism that so many American embrace. I believe militarism to be one of the true religions of the United States. This militarism leads to this culture of violence which accepts violence based solutions as not the only option, but the necessary option. It is through such policies of violence based solutions that America has the largest prison population in the world, epidemics of police violence, mass deportations of non-white people, etc.

How do you evaluate the alternative media experience? Don’t you think that in order to counter imperialist manipulation and propaganda, we need to rely on highly engaged and highly effective alternative media to win the information battle that is strategic?

Yes, I could not agree with you more. When I first started speaking about the war I was allowed onto and into main stream media. I appeared on the main cable news networks and was published in major newspapers, but over the last decade voices of dissent, particularly those who are against war and imperialism have been dramatically marginalized from the main stream, or corporate owned press. In 2014, when I was arguing against a renewed American presence in Iraq, I was only able to appear on one cable news network and none of the major newspapers sought my opinion. The same occurred for many of my colleagues. Where we were successful in appearing on cable television news, CNN in my case, or being printed in major news papers and media outlets, we were outnumbered 5, 10 or 15 to one in terms of the voices and opinions that were pro-war. For example, when I appeared on CNN during that time, I was introduced as “the lone dove in a field of wolves” by the anchor (Brooke Baldwin). This situation, this echo chamber, of pro-war, pro-imperialism and pro-violence voices has only solidified and I know only a couple of people who have been able to get onto the major networks to argue against war and then they are outnumbered considerably and often drowned out by pro-war and pro-empire voices.

Without the alternative media voices like mine would have no outlet. I think however that the success of the alternative media has caused the mainstream media to tighten and limit its allowance of dissent as fear of dissent against the wars having an effect on the population and policy has caused the intersection of the military/government, the media and corporations to more rigidly control the messages being allowed. I think this really accelerated in 2013 when public opinion and public action towards Congress kept the Obama Administration from launching a war against the government of Syria. The nexus of the top echelons of the military/government, the media and the corporations is quite real and reinforcing, and the consequences of this have been the limitation and, in some cases, elimination of dissent from the corporate owned media.

What do you think of the fact that the Trump administration is going back on the Iranian nuclear deal and what is your opinion on the escalation between the United States and North Korea? Does US imperialism still need an enemy to exist, namely the USSR, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, etc.?

I think that Trump going back on the nuclear deal with Iran was bound to happen. Trump is following the lead of the foreign policy establishment in the United States which is first and foremost committed to American hegemony and dominance. The preservation of the American Empire is the mission of most foreign policy experts in the United States, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Cooperation between nations, demilitarization and world wide respect for human rights is hardly ever a concern for the American foreign policy establishment. This is why we see the same bellicosity to North Korea, and let’s not forget both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have threatened to destroy North Korea themselves.

I think not just for imperialism, but for our culture of militarism, violence and our nationalist concept of American Exceptionalism we must have an enemy. We view ourselves as Good, so there must be a Bad or an Evil. American Exceptionalism and the violence that comes with it, believed to be redemptive and justice-based, is a Manichean, binary framework, so Americans must have an adversary or an enemy. So sad and so tragic that so many have suffered, died and been made homeless all around the world, over the decades for such an absurd, ignorant, simplistic and false belief.

You received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling in 2010. What can you tell us about this award?

It was a very great honor. The prizes are awarded in the name of Ron Ridenhour, the soldier who helped alert people to the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. It is and has been very humbling to be included in such a prestigious group of men and women who have followed their consciences, looked past the risk and did what was right.

 

 

Don’t Mourn, Organize, Part Two: Talking about Brian, Colin, Matthew and Bob…

Over the last month I have done a series of four interviews with Blase Bonpane on his show World Focus on KPFK Radio. You can find the link to podcasts and the transcripts of the interviews here. I’ve pasted below the transcript of the second of the four interviews we did together as that was the interview I found to be most inspiring as we spoke about Brian Willson, the NFL, the Gospel of Matthew, Bob Dylan and a few more usual topics like North Korea, nuclear weapons and Donald Trump.

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World Focus – October 1, 2017 Matthew Hoh

Friends, we’re very happy when we see a documentary film going up into the regular movie houses. That’s what’s happened with the film on Paying the Price for Peace: The Story of S Brian Willson. This is produced and directed by Bo Boudart and narrated by Peter Coyote. The associate producer is our dear friend Frank Dorrel. It will be shown in the Awareness Film Festival this year. The film is very special, and reaching a growing audience.

Brian has just written another great book called Please Don’t Thank Me For My Service. Here’s David Hartsough writing about it. “I believe it’s the same caliber as Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the US, and shares a truth in story which needs to be heard by people of this and future generations.” That’s Please Don’t Thank Me For My Service by the officer who lost both of his legs protesting war in Nicaragua at the Concord Naval Weapons station, where vigils were going on twenty four hours a day to stop the aid to the Contras who were devastating civilian life in that country. So we’re proud of this, both the movie and the new book by Brian.

The great awakening continues. It’s not only in football, that incredible, historic story that continued to unfold this past week. It’s also at our bases. Seven drone protesters were arrested Monday morning at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in DeWitt. The Upstate Drone Action protesters blocked the entrance to the base with several large signs and banners, and refused to remove them.

“Officers from the base came out and told us to leave, and when we didn’t, we were arrested,” Upstate Drone Action founding member Ed Kinane said. “We’re trying to make a statement about the war crimes being committed at the air base with drones that kill human beings.” The protesters said they placed a “huge dollar sign dripping with blood in the main entrance way to the base. “The six-foot high dollar signs dramatize what the group believes determines the many overseas wars the Pentagon/CIA engages in: Corporate greed,” Upstate Drone Action said in a news release announcing the arrests.

We’re just very proud of the awakening that is taking place internationally. And friends, I have the good pleasure today of having a return visit from Matthew Hoh.

 

Welcome, Matthew Hoh.
Matthew: Thank you for having me on, Blase.

Blase: I’m sorry you were too sick to participate in No War 2017. They were certainly expecting you, but everybody can get sick and it’s always a surprise to us. But they got through this weekend, clearly demanding an end to the war system – just as George Washington said he wanted to see happen “more than anything” in his life, the end of the great stupidity of war. Do you have any comments on the conference, as you understand it?

Matthew: First I’d just want to refer back to what you said about Brian Willson and the film about
him, Paying Any Price. I’ve seen the film; it’s an incredible film, and what stood out to me – and I think it’s a valuable piece of art and history, a terrific documentary – was that while the title deals a lot about Brian Willson, he’s not the sole focus. Brian is a hero to so many of us and such an incredible person who has done so much for so many, given so much. What the film also does – what Frank Dorrel helped do with that film – is tell the story of the peace movement during the 1970s and 80s into the 90s, something that my generation doesn’t know much about because we were kids then. So when I was playing guitar or riding bicycles, these men and women were doing incredible work for peace, staging these massive demonstrations, doing really historic and sacrificial acts on our behalf. We now as adults, here and in other countries, are simply not aware of this great recent history. So the film is a terrific homage to Brian, and deservedly so, but it’s also a great history of the peace movement in the 1980s. It really is, and it helps people like myself and those younger than me understand where the peace movement has been and to understand where we need to take it. It’s just a valuable, valuable experience to watch and to learn. And it’s a great work of filmmaking, done in such a way that if you’re completely unaware of the peace movement’s activities, it is a riveting film, so well done.

Blase: Yes, and we’re so happy about it because we have to decide whether we’re going to be the “empire” that our forefathers constantly talked about…I was reading the autobiography of Alexander Hamilton recently, a brilliant man who was really George Washington’s right hand man, but they did foresee an empire, and I think we have to make a slight change of course to say that we will be a republic, a nation, but we will not be an idol to be worshipped or complain when there is protest, we will not say that our football players are evil and should all be fired…here are people non-violently protesting our air bases on our ball fields, and in the meantime the wars are going with no punishment whatsoever. Now, I think that we must remedy this situation and become a member of the global family. How are we going to do that?

Matthew: I think what we need to do, Blase, and I, like you, am so inspired to see what has occurred in the National Football League this week where about 200 players staged non-violent protests against racial oppression and injustice in this country. And I think what we need to do to move forward is – and you mentioned our brothers and sisters up at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, New York, who were arrested this week for their action – what needs to occur is people need to really realize that the fundamental thing that those NFL players are protesting and what our brothers and sisters in New York were protesting, that militarized police and mass incarceration and the world’s largest prison population, which the US has, and the murder by flying robots, the drone assassination program, and the fact that we’ve killed a million people overseas since 2001 in Muslim countries – we have to realize that those two things are connected, that they are intertwined, that the wars we have here at home are the same wars we have overseas. And we have been in this place and will continue to have a society that seeks violent solutions in order to maintain its wealth and to satisfy its greed, in order to enrich a few people while oppressing so many, we must confront it both at home and abroad. The actions of the football players and the folks up in Hancock from the Catholic Worker and others up there, the actions of those two groups, as disparate as they may be, young African American men in the prime of their lives, early twenties, incredible athletes, multi-millionaires, while the folks up in Hancock – again, many from the Catholic Worker – tend to be older, not so wealthy, probably not going to be playing a game of football anytime soon- but what they are doing, what they are fighting against, that oppression, that violence, that hate, and what they are trying to achieve, is all united; the same fundamental system of injustice and oppression and violence serves as a foundation for both. We need to make sure that we no longer fight these things separately but fight them together.

 

Blase: Many people might not understand that these players were from across the country. We’re talking about members of the Buffalo Bills, the Denver Broncos, the New York Saints, the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks – I’m only mentioning a few. This is awesome. This is historic. This is a statement to the world that we do not have a religion of state, that we do not have religiosity of government, that we do not worship idols. We do not worship flags. We simply have a flag that represents us, but the important concept in this country is We the People, not We the Flag, the flag is a symbol and we are not symbols. We are people who at this time are suffering greatly because we don’t have the healthcare or education of civilized countries. We have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the industrialized world, we incarcerate two million people, the highest in the word, we deny food to hungry people – this is all because we buy things with our taxes that we have no say over. Countries like Germany list what the money was spent for. Now, when it comes round for April 15, they ought to say this amount went for cluster bombs, this for napalm, and the largest amount is going for nuclear weapons that are likely to destroy the planet. We are entirely out of our minds. The president is breaking the law when he speaks and threatens millions of people in a country about the size of California. Here he’s threatening them and committing a crime in front of the whole world. You don’t threaten people. It’s a crime. It’s a part of preparations to initiate a war of aggression, and it has to be dealt with.

We can’t allow banks to immorally take homes away from five million people. We can’t allow our tax money to be used to bail out the banks that can’t even handle the money they’ve stolen. All of this is waiting to be done while we listen to the president commit crimes. Today is the day we celebrate the life of Stanislav Petrov, who saved the world by refusing an order to allow a nuclear weapon to be fired by the Soviet Union. He saved our lives by saying that is an immoral order, that is an illegal order. And now a film is coming out with Kevin Costner and Matt Damon to celebrate the life of Stanislav Petrov.

We must take our heroes where we can find them. Our people, our troops, cannot obey illegal orders. They are forbidden to. And here we are apt to receive this illegal order, and they must not obey it. We’re in a rather critical moment, don’t you think?

Matthew: We are. And it’s wonderful to hear that film is being made, I didn’t know. A film about Petrov. It’s so great that he’s getting the recognition. We are at a critical moment. I think, you know, none of this started with President Trump. It’s no coincidence that the Black Lives Matter movement had to occur while we had our first black president. The system of racism and oppression, the system of greed, it feels threatened, and when it feels threatened it reacts, it reacts violently and tries to suppress and oppress. That’s what we’re seeing right now. And what occurred with the NFL players is that they’ve been threatened themselves. They realize that just because they play for the premier sports league in the world, and are among the world’s greatest athletes, and multi-millionaires, does not exclude them from the wrath of this injustice, oppression and hate. If they step out of line, they will be put back into it – and that’s why you saw the president saying what he says to these young men (and there were not many, at that point, who had protested over the last year or two). When the president felt threatened by the actions of a few, he then threatened the many – and they responded. A great thing. And the other thing is that earlier this month Michael Bennett, a professional football player who has been very vocal in his protest and his support for work against racial injustice and oppression, he was a victim of police aggression in Las Vegas not so long ago, this summer back in August. They put a gun to his head and threatened to blow his head off if he moved, all because Michael Bennett was a large black man and in the wrong place at the wrong time. So I think for the professional football players, they are not immune from this system of racism and hatred and greed and violence. And that’s why you’ve seen so many speak out. It is just wonderful to see this movement moving forward.

Blase: We see the great work of Bill Moyers. He did a lengthy interview with Dr. Robert Jay Lifton on the Goldwater Rule. And it’s a duty to warn if someone might be dangerous to others. And here he is applying it to the president. He says,

“There will not be a book published this fall more urgent, important, or controversial than The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, the work of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts to assess President Trump’s mental health. They had come together last March at a conference at Yale University to wrestle with two questions. One was on countless minds across the country: “What’s wrong with him?” The second was directed to their own code of ethics: “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn” if they conclude the president to be dangerously unfit?”

Now this is a very high level, professional approach to this problem. Just as we need desperately these wonderful football players, we need those in the professions as well to come out. The lawyers. Make it clear that a threat is a crime, and a threat of aggressive war is a massive crime. All this has to come out now. We can’t sustain our nation and continue in the direction we’re going.

As we read, North and South Korea want a peace treaty. That’s what they want. And we must join them. They’ve wanted it for a long time. They want the war to be over. And now we’re threatening their country as never before. Is there enough interest at this time in that problem?

Matthew: I think what we’ve had this six months with Donald Trump, and particularly this last week or two where he had stood at the United Nations before world leaders and delegations and spoke so casually and yet so forcefully about destroying an entire people, about laying waste to tens of millions of people, without flinching, without any suggestion on his part that there may be something like a soul in him that would resist such an idea. I think that has really struck many people who haven’t been struck by how heinous our system has become overall. We have to look at the whole system. If we remove Trump, we still have an awful system in place that’s based on racism and oppression and hate. But this system has allowed us to put a man into power who is willing to threaten the deaths of millions and millions of people, with the thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons he has. And he has many people who will do his bidding. That is what is equally terrifying – not only is this man threatening in unlawful ways, as you put it so well, but there are so many others standing behind him who simply look at their feet when he makes these remarks. The fact that we have a man who threatens the death and destruction of millions of people with nuclear weapons. And nobody stands up and says, this is wrong – this is the most alarming thing to me, the fact that we have this man who can carry forward as he pleases without the rise to stop him that needs to be done – but I think that is coming. We can see it in the actions that have occurred, such as the actions of the football players. People are recognizing that we live in a world in which what happens to other people happens to us, that we’re tied together. I talk often about how we have our endless wars now, we have these military generals, three of them who are in positions in the White House. Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, and the White House Chief of Staff. All generals, and they view the world through military eyes. So we now have military objectives around the world that are only for the military themselves, so that is what these endless wars have created, strictly military policies that only have military objectives solely for the benefit of the war itself in a continuous cycle. We have to talk about what the consequences of climate change will be because we are enduring those consequences now – and this is what the consequences of endless war are. Overseas we are killing people every day, with our drones and our air strikes, we’re supporting other armies that are doing so, or over here where we are letting people die without the care they need or putting them in prison in a massive incarceration system that is just oppressing vast segments of our population. It is all tied together, and I think that the imagery of this man standing at the United Nations, this man Donald Trump threatening – this image holds it all together.

 

Blase: We see the workers getting into it with the demonstrations at the drone base. We see the doctors getting into it with Dr. Robert Jay Lifton warning us that he and his colleagues have a duty to warn that this man is dangerous. And the Lawyers Guild by way of Marjorie Cohn, that the courts have to hold the executive branch accountable for drone strikes. Now this is entirely doable, and this goes back to Marbury v Madison; the court can declare an act of the president unconstitutional and do the same to the congress. It has the power of judicial review, and the lawyers are saying let the Supreme Court get into this and declare that what is being done is illegal. They have that authority, they’ve used it previously, and it’s been with us for over two hundred years. It goes way back to I believe 1803.

So we have a serious legal situation going on in the midst of these threats and rumors of war. It sounds like chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew – war and rumors of war, famines and floods in various places, nation shall rise against nation, my God! I want to go out with a sign that reads, the end of the world is near! It’s really a serious situation that we find ourselves in at this precise moment. So, on the Korean issue, I wonder if people understand that when you’re talking about two nations that are in lock step together, they’re sealed at the hip, and you used weapons of mass destruction against the “bad one,” you’re going to kill everybody in the “good one” too. Does anyone understand that? And that’s not even to mention the Chinese and the Japanese. One of our senators, Lindsay Graham, said he didn’t care if it killed everyone in South Korea, Japan, China, we have to stop this. I mean – my God. I think we can stop it by another way. So what are your thoughts at this time on the Korean situation?

 

Matthew: You reference Matthew 24 there. I just reread it the other day with the idea that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which was an awful experience for the Jews 2000 years ago – the Romans came in and just obliterated Jerusalem. But reading that again for me, my take away was that the corruption that had existed between the Jewish authorities and the Roman Empire and the selling out of the Jewish law and the Jewish God to the Roman Empire, as corrupt and evil as it was as well, and then the second half of that, the corollary to that was that the response to that oppression, to that corruption and violence, that awful system, this unity of a corrupt Jewish religious authority and a corrupt Roman Empire, was a violent rebellion, which resulted in the complete desolation of Jerusalem and the temple. So by trying to save and fix through violence, the Jewish rebels ultimately set the conditions for the destruction of what they were trying to save. It was an important thing for me to read to re-emphasize the need for us, however we go forward, to do it in a non-violent manner, and to do it with the divine spirit that motivates us to fight oppression, to fight against racism and violence. We cannot become those forces ourselves, because it will lead to our own destruction. It’s interesting that you reference that, Blase, because I had really just read Matthew 24 a couple of days ago. So it really heartens me to be able to speak about that and to note that what we are going through now is not any different than what other peoples have gone through in history. We can overcome, we have the ability to overcome and to fight these despots, these systems of violence, these injustices. We have the ability to do that, and people have done it before. But we have to remember to do it in a manner that is consistent with the purposes that we are trying to achieve. Otherwise, we become like the very thing we’re trying to bring down. It’s important for us to remember that. And to keep it foremost in our thoughts as we go forward.

I’m so glad you brought up those provisions in the NDAA that President Obama supported and his utilization of rendition and the kidnapping and assassination of people. Supposedly Obama wouldn’t misuse this power. Well, now we have a man who will misuse it, and just recently they reduced the oversight and the regulation surrounding the drone and manned airstrike assassination program. Whereas before people who were assassinated by our drones or aircraft, that had to be approved at the presidential level. Now it can be approved by people many levels down from the president. They have the authority to assassinate people without presidential approval, so we are so far gone from a place of due process and judicial review and so into this military authorized assassination program, these military authorized killings and the mass murder that they involve. It’s just another vein or avenue that the system has now used to enable itself to utilize. American military officers can choose to assassinate

people around the world without our political system being involved. It was heinous enough before when the political system was involved with assassinations with complete disregard for judicial process and our constitution and our values and beliefs in life and human rights. But now we have devolved down to where military officers can kill people at will. It really is a very scary place for us to be.

Blase: This is classic imperial behavior. Whether people are believers or unbelievers, or people who like Jefferson who looked at it and tried to take every section of the New Testament that he could make sense of and put it down in my thinking. If we do that at this time, it can be very helpful to agnostics, to atheists, to people who call themselves Christians but are frequently an embarrassment to all of us. We can take a look at what is spiritual. The use of the word “world” is a very negative thing in these writings. It refers to greed, to war, to hunger and the evils we see today – so the world is a negative, and the objective is to do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. We don’t have to put heaven in order; we have to work for the world, which is out of order. Then we look at the amazing writing of Paul, and we find that his metaphors are practically all either military or sporting. He constantly uses those terms. I run toward the prize. My entire attention is on the finish line. And the things of this world have to be put down. Dismiss all anxiety. Rejoice and fight. He is constantly using these references as a spiritual warrior. Once again, in Guatemala we were called guerillas of peace. Here he’s talking about spiritual warriors and he calls them my companions in work and battle. It’s a metaphor for fighting the good fight in peace and non-violence. And then I see in your writings a reference to the peace movement as “divine.” Now that’s a most interesting phrase for you to use, Matthew.

Matthew: I’m not a believer myself. I am an adherent of Jesus, but I’m not a Christian. What I’ve found over the last years, as I have worked with Veterans for Peace both here in the United States and abroad, and have been a part of delegations from Veterans for Peace that has joined with resistance groups in Okinawa, Japan, in Palestine, in Standing Rock, and of course in action in Charlottesville VA after the violence had occurred there back in August with Iraq Veterans Against the War, which is now called About Face – what I have seen, and what united these resistance groups around the world is something beyond the human experience. What drives them forward and makes them steadfast and unwilling to submit or be coopted by the same forces that are oppressing them, is universal and goes across time – it’s something that I could not put my finger on or describe with any other words than the word divine because it was something that was beyond our human experience. It was something supernatural to us as material physical and cultural people. It seemed so in contrast to these people who were fighting

against militarism, against violence, who were seeking to protect human beings, their air and their water, the resources that keep them alive, that will keep their children alive, is this presence that is so antithetical to the forces that they are fighting against. I had to use the word divine to satisfy the description. As these people allow you to walk with them and be in solidarity with them, and for myself, as a white man who served in the US military and was an occupier in Iraq and Afghanistan in pretty senior and effective ways, to allow me to come in and be with them where I am the very prototypical person who has been leading the oppression against them whether they be the Okinawans, the Palestinians, the Native Americans, the African Americans, and to be so welcome and to be made a part of their resistance with no questions asked, that graciousness is something that again is so antithetical to the things they are fighting…it can only come from a place outside of human explanation. So that’s why I used the word divine. These people cannot and will not be defeated, and this element of the divine explains why they don’t succumb to using violence and why they don’t succumb to the forces that are trying to coopt them. They are united across continents, across races and religions, and across time. It has been an incredible experience to participate and to extend solidarity over the last year or so.

Blase: Well, I think you say that so well because what ruined religions is a focus on dogmas which are telling people “I know all about God.” The only answer is, no you don’t, you don’t know anything. We haven’t even begun to understand. What leads us to fight – Protestant, Catholic, Sunni, Shia, Hindu, Muslim etc – the real guts of the whole thing are what are called the divine fruits of the spirit, which are love and compassion and courage, and engagement with people. We find that in music, I mean just looking at something here – this could be right out of biblical literature, and perhaps it’s better than a lot of that writing, Bob Dylan’s “Come You Masters of War, you that build all the guns, you that build the death planes, you that hide behind walls, you that hide behind desks, I want you to know that I can see through your masks. Let me ask you one question. Is your money that good? Will it buy you forgiveness? Do you think that it could? I think you will find, when your death takes its toll, all the money you’ve made will never buy back your soul.” Now that is divine.

Matthew: Absolutely. And it ties into the importance of the word “worldly” and the material things that the system uses, what people filled with hate and greed use to split us. And by using worldly resources, or worldly privileges, or worldly possessions, we are forced to divide ourselves into have and have nots, to protestants and catholics, black and white, to ensure that me and mine receive more than they and those. It really is such an important thing to remember and to recall that difference between the spiritual, the divine, the otherworldly, if you will, and the material, the physical. What side are you on?

 

Blase: The president is asking us to take a mode of idol worship, which is common in imperial situations, you look at the divinity of the government and worship the idols of the government to focus on being upset by kneeling before the flag in protest to something higher than that is a spiritual act and should be praised. People going around assassinating others with drones are being praised, and here our football players are being called filthy names insulting their mothers and them because they don’t believe in idol worship. We do not worship our flag. The people are an autonomous group that has the power to get rid of a criminal president and to get rid of all criminals in government and to establish a republic, not an empire, and live with the 96 percent of people who do not live in the United States, to live with them in peace, and to understand that we are a planet of colors, we have a lot of colors, I’ve never met anyone who was completely white who was not dead, so we all have colors, so we can’t fight over stupidities, over what are called accidents in philosophy, we must deal with the essentials of peace and justice…and a sense of compassion and of creating what Dr. King called a Beloved Community. It is entirely possible. Sometimes there has been some success in it, and we’re extremely happy to see that, we’re happy to see people who know that they will never obey an illegal order. And any use of a nuclear weapon is ILLEGAL. We are not allowed to commit genocide. We are not allowed to engage in aggressive war.

We should be able to understand all of this and see that as a result of this, as Paul says, peace will be with you – the concept of the coming of the Messiah was peace on earth, goodwill to everyone. Well, where is it? That’s what they called for – peace on earth with goodwill to everyone. You can lovingly put someone in to some kind of restraint if they are a psychopathic killer. It can be done with love, not hate. You can create a beloved community, and that is what our goals and objectives are as we stand on the verge of a terrible war.

Another book just coming out here is called The Great White Hoax: Donald Trump and the Politics of Race and Class in America, which features Tim Wise, who has written so much on race. He’s one of the nation’s most prominent anti-racist writers. He wrote White Like Me, Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.

So I hope you’re not feeling too badly today, and hope you feel better as a result of this discussion!

 

Matthew: Oh yes, I feel better – these last few days I just got hit by this bug. I was in New York when it hit, and the United Nations General Assembly was occurring, and I actually saw Donald Trump drive by; my cousin and I were drinking a cup of coffee on 51st street, and Donald Trump and his motorcade drove by on Thursday. They closed the street off. For anyone who has not seen a presidential motorcade drive by, it is just a massive, massive display of vehicles and 25 or 30 motorcycle cops and tow trucks and ambulances and secret service vehicles and men with rifles and swat teams…it just goes on and on. And you can see Trump waving, just at the height of his personal power, a man who just loves threatening the world with violence.

Blase: We’re very happy that some of those who are experts on race and have spent much of their lives on race consider this action of the football players as extremely positive. Harry Edwards, a professor at the University of California, puts it well. “Mr. Trump has managed to precipitate something that all of us activists and intellectuals and media types would never have been able to achieve. Through his ignorance, impulsiveness and vindictiveness, he has done more to put our movement on track and move it forward than any other individual in history.” Here is someone who has spent his whole life on this problem, and he says, well, Mr. Trump first of all threw the owners under the bus, and forced them to choose between the alt-right and their own players, and they knew that if they didn’t stand on the right side of these issues and stand with their players, they signed their last free agent, they probably would have had a great deal of difficulty signing their draft choices, and they’d have tremendous problems in the locker room because of the perception of what the owners stood for who took Mr. Trump’s advice. The owners were afraid of the players.

Matthew: I also think that many of the owners are close to the players. So all these white owners have a relationship with these young men and their families that many people don’t have. And as these young men were so courageously taking a knee, and as they were booed and you heard the filthy awful racist things that were yelled at them – it was clear that none of them actually have relationships with African Americans. So a lot of it came down to this – the owners were not only put on the spot, but I think it became personal to them as well because they know their players and they know that they are good people who share the common presence of humanity that they share as well. So what Trump did with these billionaires, these super rich people who own football teams, that spark of humanity was touched because Trump forced them to realize that his racist hatred and rhetoric was being directed against people they knew and loved.

Blase: Well, Matthew Hoh, we’re out of time, and I have been so happy to have you on the show today. Matthew: Thank you, Blase.

 

 

 

 

The Arms Trade and Drug Lords – Going Underground

Update: Andrew Cockburn’s current article in Harper’s Magazine is an absolutely must read. I’ve not read a better summation of Saudi Arabian involvement, and the US government cover-up of the Saudi role in 9/11 than this: Crime and Punishment; Will the 9/11 Case Finally Go to Trial?

“…Owens was not impressed by what she found on Capitol Hill. Most of the senators and representatives she met didn’t seem to care who was behind 9/11. “They just didn’t want to be seen as voting against the 9/11 families. So they would vote yes for it, and then try to sabotage it behind the scenes. . . . Washington is an ugly place.”

For September 11th, I was a guest on RT UK’s show Going Underground. The host, Afshin Rattansi, is terrific. I’ve pasted below my appearance from the last time I was on his show, almost three years ago:

I’ve done a large number of tv and radio interviews the last few weeks about the American wars in the Middle East. I’ve been focusing a lot of my attention on the men who are behind these policies, Generals Mattis, Kelly and McMaster, as I believe understanding their world views, how they view themselves and their resulting intentions are crucial in understanding how American war policy evolved and, under Donald Trump, is different from the war policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Forgive the apparent vanity in sharing so many videos of myself right now, but I think I touch on a different aspect of the wars, and for that matter American society, in each of the following videos.

Comments on Syria, the world view of White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, and the lineage of American wars and use of airstrikes. From the National Press Club, August 2017, aired via CSPAN:

The full news conference, that included Christie Edwards, John Kiriakou, David Swanson and Norman Solomon can be found here.

From Democracy Now, the morning after President Trump’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy announcement, August 2017. I focus predominantly on the connection between our wars abroad and our wars at home, and the influence Generals Mattis, Kelly and McMaster have on President Trump. A transcript can be found here.

In this Real News interview, I discuss the influence of money on the wars, particularly the circular motion of Congress appropriating money for war, the money going to defense companies, defense companies funding think tanks and lobbyists, and those think tanks and lobbyists than justifying further defense spending, and the wars, to Congress. This was taped the day of President Trump’s Afghanistan and Pakistan speech in August 2017.

If you have any doubt how much money an extra 4,000 troops sent to Afghanistan generates in additional war spending, understand that we spend roughly $4 million dollars per soldier per year in Afghanistan. We have 11,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, soon to be 15,000, and we spend $44 billion dollars, in direct costs only, on the war. This spending, as well as the roughly $30 billion we are spending on the wars in Syria and Iraq is independent from the base defense budget, which the US Senate is currently considering. [This year’s budget is $700 billion, which is about $40 billion MORE than Donald Trump proposed with his $54 billion increase in the defense budget last spring, which it is important to remember is only 3% greater than what President Obama proposed to spend; President Obama having spent more money on the military than any other president since FDR and World War Two, in inflation adjusted dollars.]

The United States also utilizes 2.5 contractors for each soldier in Afghanistan. So the amount of money to be made on even a small troop increase is phenomenal, as the troop increase comes alongside increased air and artillery strikes in Afghanistan and the requirement for more bases and facilities to be built. (Disregard what people like Anthony Cordesman, who works for a think tank heavily funded by the defense industry, when they say things like new troops will utilize existing infrastructure in Afghanistan and not that much more extra money will be spent on the war with a troop increase. The generals always want more bases, because they always do; contractors always want to build more bases and sell more services; and there has not been an instance of per troop costs diminishing over the time of the conflict, only expanding – God forbid the journalists point these things out or ask the “experts” who are funded by the interests about which they are speaking to justify their assertions)

It is very simple: 4,000 more American soldiers to Afghanistan means more than $15 billion in spending for the Pentagon and defense industry.

A transcript of the following interview can be found here.

In this interview with RT America, from August 31, 2017, I speak about the totality of American war policy, and there really is no other policy than the war policy, in the Middle East and Afghanistan and how the policies in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia are linked and united under a common strategy that seeks military control or subjugation of the local population through collaborating and subservient allies and proxies. The brutal use of military force, particularly that which we have witnessed in Iraq and Yemen by the Iraqi and Saudi militaries, supported directly by American air forces and commandos, is the strategy that will be put in place in Afghanistan and is what the United States is utilizing with its three air bases in Kurdish controlled Syria and the Kurdish army. We have also seen an increase in this use of strategy and operations in Somalia, I expect Libya will see the same.

This strategy differs from the Bush II and Obama strategies as there is no consideration for a political end state or political control of the population. No such thing as elections, negotiations, economic development, no attempts at winning hearts and mind, only subjugation and punishment. Yes, the Bush II and Obama wars were immoral, un-winnable and counter-productive, but there was an attempt or desire to have a political end state. Under this administration, with the policy controlled by the three generals, Mattis, Kelly and McMaster, the end state is military control of areas not sympathetic to the government through massive fire power and the use of highly trained commandos as the focus of effort against the enemy and the local population. So, in effect, the  Pashtun areas of southern, eastern and northern Afghanistan will become free fire zones with nightly kill/capture raids by commandos into villages and homes with subjugation, military control and punishment as the objectives of this violence and killing.

Finally, I did this interview with my friend Cat Watters. It’s been awhile since I’ve spoken with her. A very free ranging and relaxed interview which I really enjoyed doing, because Cat gets the emotions and humanity that underlay all of what I am talking about. Thanks Cat!

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.

 

True Strength, in Lyla’s Prayer and Song, and How I Came to Mine Quite Late

Lyla June Johnson joined us last month at the Lincoln Memorial from her ancestral homeland of Diné Tah, what the Mexican-American War, through violent conquest, defined and delineated for us as the states of the American Southwest. The Mexican-American War was a war that American general and president Ulysses Grant would describe in his memoirs as: “one of the most unjust [wars] ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation” and “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war…I thought so at the time…only I had not moral courage enough to resign.” I’m convinced that Grant’s life and soul were irrevocably and forever wrecked by the moral injury he sustained from his participation in the Mexican-American War. However interesting it would be to think on how that war effected Grant and drove him in the years before, during and after the Civil War, Grant is not the purpose of this post, Lyla is, and by extension, my own inability to act fully on my own feelings and beliefs for too many years.

Lyla spoke after I did at the Lincoln Memorial. In contrast to my speech, which was filled with anger and sorrow, and offered only bitter reflection, Lyla offered healing and hope, and a path forward for all of us, even the diseased war-makers, as she aptly, and compassionately described them. Please take the time to hear her words, her prayer and her song:

Here is my speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Please listen/watch both and note the difference. I’d like to be more like Lyla.

Thank you to Chris Smiley for filming all the speeches and music performances at the Lincoln Memorial and at the White House. You can watch all the videos here at Chris’ Youtube channel.

Note that the title of this post is True Strength. I see that strength in Lyla, as I see it in so many of my comrades in the Peace and Justice community, so many of them women, I would say most of them women. Not discounting my brothers, but many of the most influential people on me, these past years of my life, have been women, my sisters.

I see that strength so especially when women like Lyla are willing to see the war-mongers and war-profiteers and pray for them, when people like Lyla seek to heal those whom I decry and detest. Where I want to tear down, set ablaze and destroy, where I want to let loose and satisfy an anger, a hate, a desire for bloody and savage revenge that haunts and cripples me, Lyla looks to comfort, to fix and to sooth; her way brings peace. Inside of me the cycle of violence is still spinning, and that weakens me so that I can never be strong, so that I can never recover, so that I can never find relief and rest. Only when that cycle of violence is truly broken, and to do so, the entire cycle must be embraced and touched, as Lyla demonstrates, can peace and justice be achieved. In order to do so, to break the cycle of violence, both within ourselves and within our societies, True Strength must be had.

With that in mind, this notion of strength and the unfortunate, and all too frequent absence of it, I want to share a talk I gave at the semi-annual conference for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee in St. Louis last month.

For a long time after my resignation from government service and the war in 2009, I hedged on my actual feelings of aversion to the war, my sincere moral disgust with the killing, and my honest intellectual rejection of war and violence as a solution overseas and at home. I had harbored these feelings and beliefs for a long time before 2009. I hadn’t believed in the necessity of the war in Iraq in 2003, my colleagues in the Secretary of the Navy’s office can attest to that, but I was overtly agnostic at best, and I certainly was not filled with any principled degree of resistance, as I had not been personally touched by that vicious cycle of violence that was yet to come, so my connection to the war was abstract and academic.

As I explain in the video below, and in the video I talk about some personal history I have not shared before, some things I discuss go back to high school and the first Gulf War, my ability to lie to myself during my time in the Marine Corps, during the wars, to make excuses, to justify and incur responsibilities and obligations that required me to look past the immorality, the illegality, the lies, the simple WRONGNESS of the wars, in retrospect, was breathtaking. For example, if I were not to take command of Charlie Company, 4th Combat Engineer Company in 2006 when that opportunity came about, then other, less capable, less competent officers would take command which would risk Marines and Sailors to get killed; so I volunteered, accepted the command, went to Anbar Province and back to a war I knew was corrupt and was wrong. And on and on the justifications and excuses would go on, for years they went on, cloaked, camouflaged, and be-knighted with responsibility and obligation for the lives of others, all this moral justification in my head to allow my participation in an immoral war.

What my point in that reflection at the war tax resistance conference in St. Louis was how after I left the war and government service is that I continued to hedge my actions in relation to the wars. That rather than being set free, as I thought I might have been, I still aspired to be a part of the establishment, to be a part of something that “mattered” because I wanted to influence and have an effect on a peace process in Afghanistan, something that if I had the courage to look at what really existed in my mind and in my heart I would have known did not not exist from the American government’s perspective.

I was aware of a desire for peace within elements of the insurgency, as well as other parties within Afghanistan, including Hamid Karzai’s government, however our own government was, by far, the biggest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan – this was one of several reasons for my resignation in 2009. I, however, held out hope that, concurrent with the escalation of the war or after the escalation had failed, by 2011, when it had been agreed between President Obama and Gates/Clinton/Petraeus/et al. that a draw down in Afghanistan would begin, that serious negotiations would take place to end the war in Afghanistan. I was shockingly naive on two counts: 1. that someone who had been so disloyal as me would ever be allowed back in again, and 2. that the escalation of the war in Afghanistan was ever anything more than a stage play to make it look like Obama had done all he needed to do to “win” and allow the US to retreat, the same feat Petraeus had performed for Bush in Iraq just a few years prior. As in Iraq the same held true for the Afghans, once we were gone whatever happened to them could be pinned on them as the Afghans being too corrupt, not brave enough, not up to to the task, too sectarian, falling back on centuries old conflicts, or whatever specious soundbite the media talking-heads would gleefully regurgitate on the evening news. The president would be a war time president, Gates and his generals would get a chance to win and redeem themselves for Iraq, and Clinton would be a hawk for her presidential run in 2016, and the defense budget would keep going up – as I was recently reminded, the defense industry spent $27 million lobbying Congress in just those last three months of 2009 – and there I was thinking I might accomplish something by hanging out with Ron Paul and John Murtha in Congress and going on the Today Show

 

However, at the time, my thoughts were that I could somehow play a role as an outsider and go back into government service at a later point, as many who resigned in protest of the Vietnam War did. I thought maybe I could play a role in the negotiations that I suspected may be occurring, although I had no idea to the level that they were actually occurring with the Taliban, although with American involvement – again our government, the United States, being the greatest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan. I kept my true feelings about war and violence in check, determined to be a realist and a professional, but only contributing to and engaging in a fraudulent and rigged game, perpetuating an industry of war and a phony intellectual foreign policy and defense establishment in Washington, DC, a community whose only requirement for entry, promotion and prominence is allegiance and a pronounced demonstration to the greater good, or should I say God, of the war industry.

In my earliest talks and writings upon my resignation from the war, I believe I was more earnest in speaking for US withdrawal from the war, but as my belief in possible reconnection with the establishment, and my position with a think tank began, my views became more moderate, more reasonable, more sensible…i.e.. more palatable to Washington, DC and to the money that keeps the city and its people afloat.

I’m no longer in DC. I’m no longer captive to those interests. I also don’t make a ton of money any more, more like no money ;), and I now live with my family again in NC. But I have strength in my heart, in my mind and my soul.

I owe that strength to many people. A lot of it to one lady in particular: Diane Baker; who may be the strongest person I’ve ever met. It was meeting her in Dallas in the summer of 2012, staying with her and her husband Tom that really shook me and made me realize that I was a coward for not embracing and articulating what I actually knew and believed about violence. It was never anything Diane specifically said, but just who she was. Her presence, the dignity with which she spoke and carried herself, and her commitment to life and peace. I haven’t been the same since I met her. Now, to be sure, Diane was no magic potion for me, and there is certainly still LOTS wrong with me, but I feel the last many years I have written, spoken and acted much more forcefully and honestly than I did prior to staying with her. If you have had someone like that in your life, and I believe we all have many people who have influenced us in many different ways, make sure you tell them.

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With Diane Baker (middle) at VFP convention in Asheville, NC, 2014

Here is my talk at the War Tax Resistance Conference on hedging on my own morality. I hope this will help and maybe inspire some other people. Please take this talk for what it is worth, but at the very least for an understanding that life is very truly a journey. Today, typing this in a coffee shop in Durham I am living the values I imagined living as a 17 year old high school student.

Wage Peace.

 

Two People Discuss War; formerly titled: A Marine and an Iraqi Discuss War

Last week, as part of Ralph Nader’s four-day conference in Washington, DC, Breaking Through Power, my friend Raed Jarrar, a Palestinian-Iraqi-American, and I gave a talk on the horrors of war. My perspectives of combat, occupation, colonial administration and war time politics, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Washington, were set besides Raed’s experiences of living in Baghdad following the Gulf War, through the years of sanctions, into the American invasion, yes, the glory of Shock and Awe, and for the first year of occupation. Raed left Baghdad in 2004, but returned to Iraq to help rebuild, before becoming a full-time peace and anti-war activist.

The video is below. I want to thank Ralph Nader and the Center for Study of Responsive Law for allowing Raed and I to share how we both came to the same understanding of our lives, our world, our leaders, our people, our wars and the need for peace, from the different ends of a rifle.

Also, my apologies to the brave and fantastic Alli McCracken for giving the equally brave and fantastic Medea Benjamin credit for trying to, rightfully, arrest Henry Kissinger last year. Thank you Alli and Code Pink.

The remainder of the day’s talks and conversations can be found on Youtube.

17,000 Dead Iranians. Who Knows? Who Cares?

Last month I had the privilege of answering an interview from an Iranian research agency dedicated to studying acts of terror carried out against the Iranian people. By their count 17,000 Iranians have been killed in acts of terror over the last 3 1/2 decades. Quite an astounding number, isn’t it? I have no reason to believe this number is inflated or exaggerated, but, even if the real count is only a tenth of the pronounced figure of 17,000, it would still signify a horrendously systematic attack of political violence on a people that, as elections again this past weekend in Iran have displayed, possess a desire for progress, civility, toleration and modernity.

Just as many of us do not embody in our personal lives, beings and souls the worst aspects of our American government, our wars overseas and our mass incarceration at home, so too are the Iranian people not representative of their government’s acts of militarism and repression. I  know, I know. Such a trite and cliched thing to say. But then why would so many in the US not know of the thousands killed by terrorism in Iran and why would many Americans say that those dead Iranians and their devastated families deserve it? If not for such a binary and Manichean way of looking at the world, we are good – they are bad, we could understand and communicate with one another better, and then, maybe, as a united and common people we could lead this world to prosperity and health, rather than to war, climate change and poverty.

The interview can be found here and is copied below:


Full text of Habilian’s interview with Matthew Hoh, Ex-US State Department Official
Sunday, 01 May 2016 09:51 Habilian

“…in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups.”

In an exclusive interview with Habilian Association, Iranian Center for Research on Terrorism, Matthew Hoh has answered the questions about the US military interventions in the Middle East following 9/11 attacks in the name of “fighting against terrorism” and its implications for the people of the region, terrorism developments in the Middle East after 2001, America’s role in the empowerment of terrorist groups in the region, US imperialism around the world, relationships between the Media and government in the US, and Machiavellian view of American leaders to terrorist groups such as MeK. What comes below is the full text of the Habilian Association’s interview with him.

Habilian: At the beginning of the interview, please tell us when you did join the Army? Would you speak about your motives in wearing the Army Uniform?

Hoh: I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1998 for a number of reasons. I was bored with the work I was doing (I was working for publishing company in New York City), I wanted adventure, I wanted to prove myself while serving others, I wanted to be involved in something bigger than I was, and I wanted to take part in history. In short I possessed the motives of many bored and unchallenged young men.

Habilian: Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush delivered a speech at joint session of Congress, in which “War on Terror” was declared. In that speech, Bush raised some questions quoted from American peoples, including who attacked the US and why; and how Americans can punish them. Now, after more than 15 years of American interventions in the region that led to death of more than one million civilians, if you, as an American journalist, have an interview with Bush, what questions will you ask him about the war?

Hoh: The first question I would ask President Bush is why he is not remorseful. Does his desire for a positive view of his legacy preclude his ability to empathize with the millions who have suffered because of these wars? Secondly, I would ask him why can he not be humble and admit his policies were wrong and counter-productive. I would not be asking him to say the terror of 9/11 was not horrific and I am not asking him to compare himself with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but to simply recognize that the wars he launched and the wars that are still ongoing have made the world worse and not better. Two simple truths: the number of dead in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and other places number well past one million since September 12, 2001. Millions more have been wounded and are refugees from their homes. Those who suffer the horribly debilitating psychiatric and moral effects of the wars number in the tens of millions. And none of those wars are close to ending. The second truth is that, according to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and based upon documents found in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda only consisted of approximately two hundred members in 2001. Now the organization has thousands of members in countries across the globe. Of course the Islamic State didn’t even exist in 2001 and only came into existence because of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. Clearly American policy in the Middle East has failed. I would ask President Bush how he ignores such truths. To be fair, I would ask President Obama the same.

Habilian: In the mentioned speech, George Bush had said that Americans are asking him what is expected of them, then listed his expectations of American people: “to live your lives, and hug your children”, “to uphold the values of America”, “to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions” and “continued participation and confidence in the American economy”. If we go back to September 20, 2001 and you had an opportunity to speak in Congress and announce your expectations from the government, what would you said?

Hoh: I am not sure if anything anyone said would be listened to. In 2001, we did have people in the United States counseling against acting on fear and anger. In Congress, however, we had only one member, Barbara Lee, from California, who voted against giving the President unlimited authority to carry out war, an authority that President Obama still utilizes nearly 15 years later. Out of 535 members of Congress only one had the wisdom, the intelligence and the courage to say that war was not just the wrong approach to terrorism, but that it would be foolhardy and prove to be counter-productive. Americans at that time were scared and angry. Politicians were scared and angry as well, but, more so, they were eager to capitalize on the public’s emotions for their own political advantage and security. So, sadly, I don’t think my stating my expectations of my government to follow the dictates of morality, justice and rule of law would have been listened to.

Habilian: On February 14, 2003, George W. Bush released “The United States’ strategy for combating terrorism” in which the US administration’s objectives in the War on Terror had been listed. The core of that strategy were weakening and isolating terror networks such as Al Qaeda. Regarding the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its violent ambitions, do you believe that the announced goals of these wars have been achieved? In your opinion, are Al Qaeda typed groups stronger or weaker now?

Hoh: Terror groups are much stronger now than in 2001. The greatest recruitment for al-Qaeda and affiliated groups was not the murders of Americans in the 9/11 attacks, but the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, the continued occupation of Afghanistan, torture of prisoners by American guards, and the bombing of Muslim peoples throughout the world by the West. Remember, in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups. Of course, this is all a consequence of American military and diplomatic involvement in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War. As an American I have to understand that much of what we are seeing now in the Middle East is a consequence of decades of American backed coups, American backed dictatorships, American military interventions, American backed wars, unlimited American support for Israel, American arms sales and the American formation of religiously inspired cadres to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, one of which famously became al-Qaeda. However, I do not believe the wisest among us in the United States, of which I must admit I was not a part of in 2001, ever thought our policies would prove to be so disastrous.

Habilian: Why despite the American intelligence agencies’ estimation that the ISIS poses no immediate threat to the United States, Obama administration decided to send the country on a military campaign against that group, knowing that such a war may take several years?

Hoh: There are a few different reasons for this. I think there are some in the US government that do believe the United States has an interest in trying to bring about stability to Iraq and Syria and that military means are the only, or the predominant, manner of doing so. I believe those assertions to be wrong, that those assumptions are not based on history or experience, but I do understand them to be sincere.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other reasons why President Obama is intervening militarily in Syria and Iraq. The most important is political. President Obama, and the Democratic Party, is afraid of being viewed as weak. It is that simple. Additionally, it is nearly impossible for an American politician to say he or she is wrong or made a mistake. American politicians would rather see more American soldiers killed, more American families devastated as a result of those losses, and more innocent civilians destroyed than to admit they are wrong. Again, it is just that simple.

There are those who believe that these wars in the Middle East can simply be broken down into terms of good people versus bad people and we, the US, are on the side of the good people. There are philosophical, religious, nationalist, racist, and other reasons for such beliefs, but simple binary thinking, much like the thinking that under lay the assumptions of the Cold War, is prevalent in Washington, DC and throughout America.

There is a lot of money involved in Iraq. American companies have a good deal of interest in the oil fields of northern Iraq and the US government is keen to see those oil fields in Kurdish control, while projected sales of weapons to the Iraqi government range from 15-30 billion dollars over the next one or two decades. Such money has enormous influence in Washington, DC and the fear of the loss of such money would motivate an American President to act militarily.

Finally, the United States has an empire around the world that it must maintain. This is different in appearance or in kind than say the British or Roman Empires of the past, but it is nonetheless an empire. The United States has over 800 military bases around the world, has client states across the globe, many of which are the worst human rights violators in power, depends upon weapons sales as one of the leading aspects of the American export economy, and spends approximately one trillion dollars a year in total in support of this complex. Any threat or challenge to this established system must be confronted. In this established system in Washington, DC, as well as in American universities and corporations, it is seemingly impossible to understand any other option for the world; in fact this world view of the United States being “responsible” for the rest of the world is taken as a praiseworthy virtue and any deviance from this view is considered naïve, ignorant or silly. Combine that with America’s cultural and religious view of itself as an “exceptional nation” or as a nation with divine purposes and you can understand why America is so quick to use its military tens of thousands of miles from its borders. It is worth noting only the Western allies of the US act similarly so far from the borders; no other nation behaves this way, with the exception of the recent limited Russian involvement in Syria.

Habilian: Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce”. Why the US media are advertising this story?

Hoh: Terrorism scares and angers people, and fear and anger make for good audiences for the US media. The media in the US depends on ratings for advertising revenue (US media is privately funded) and so stories about terrorism get people’s attention causing more people to watch, listen or read, which brings in more money for the media.

There are also informal relationships between the media, the US government and politicians that lead all three to work together to support one another. The media needs the support of people in the government and politicians to get the best stories and get the best interviews, while the government and politicians need the media to present the best views of themselves and their policies. It is a mutually supportive relationship between many members of the media, the government and politicians that many in the United States see to be corrupt. That is why the American public has incredibly low opinions of the media, government and politicians in the US (recent opinion polls show that only about 10% of the public trusts these institutions).

Finally, there is the ongoing narrative of the United States being a morally correct and righteous nation that is on the side of “good” overseas. I believe the media feels it would cost them their audiences, and so their revenue, if they tried to explain world events, including terrorism and the wars, in a more complex yet accurate manner.

I must say that there are many good media sources in the US, but they tend to be small and independent of the larger corporate media that most Americans depend upon for their news. These men and women are often unfairly characterized as un-American, ideological or overly politically partisan, yet they are often the ones with the journalistic integrity the larger corporate media lacks.

Habilian: To this day MEK terrorists have been carrying out attacks inside of Iran killing political opponents, attacking civilian targets, as well as carrying out the US-Israeli program of targeting and assassinating Iranian scientists. In your opinion, how America’s government came to the conclusion that MeK no longer should be in the Terrorist List?

Hoh: The MeK has been very successful in the United States in paying American politicians and former government officials to represent the MeK. Along with the demonization with which the American government has colored Iran with since 1979, these political efforts by the MeK have succeeded in making many American leaders believe the MeK can be useful to US interests in the Middle East. Whether or not they know or care that the MeK has made many, many innocent Iranian people suffer is not something American leaders consider. I am quick to denounce the violent actions of my government, just as many Iranians are quick to denounce the violent actions of the Iranian government. Groups like the MeK and actions like the assassination of Iranian scientists serve only to prolong hostilities between the United States and Iran, hostilities that have gone on for far too long and which only serve the elites who hold power in both countries and which cause both the American and Iranian people to suffer.