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.

IMG_4983
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.

RT TV Interview on Chuck Hagel and Afghanistan

From November 25, 2014:

 

http://www.rt.com/op-edge/209179-hagel-wars-obama-policy-disagreement/

Chuck Hagel’s disagreement with Obama’s position on the Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan wars is most likely behind his resignation. The administration didn’t expect him to speak against the White House, former State Department official Matthew Hoh told RT.

RT: You’ve seen this machine at work from the inside. What do you think is behind Chuck Hagel’s resignation?

Matthew Hoh:I think, of course, there is much more to this story than simply “Chuck Hagel no longer worked well with the administration.” I think you could tell by how quickly and how viciously the White House anonymously attacked Chuck Hagel as soon he announced his resignation. There were a lot of personal attacks against Hagel: he didn’t have leadership, he couldn’t do the job, he wasn’t up to the task, and I think any time you see the administration or the White House so quickly denouncing somebody, you know automatically there is another story to this. And what I believe to be case is that Chuck Hagel does not agree with the Obama Administration involving American troops in the middle of the Iraqi and the Syrian civil wars. And he is in disagreement with the American re-escalation of the war in Afghanistan that was just announced this past weekend.

RT: Judging by yesterday’s warm hugs between Obama and Hagel, the personal relationship between the two is quite friendly. How sincere were those smiles and handshakes?

MH: It’s Washington DC; it’s the Hollywood of politics. So, absolutely. I think may be in earlier time it could be described there is how cordial relations were among politicians, among elected leaders, among our senior people. But now it’s just as you described – it was a show.

RT: Recently Chuck Hagel became quite critical of the administration’s policy in Syria and Iraq. Do you think this made him an outcast in the White House?

MH: I think for the administration not to expect Secretary Hagel to be vocal or to speak up would have been be a very big mistake for them in their understanding of Secretary Chuck Hagel. Chuck Hagel earned the national reputation in the United States about 10 years ago or so for going against the Iraqi war. Chuck Hagel is a republican and member of President George Bush’s party and he very famously went against the Iraq war. So for the Obama Administration to have thought that Chuck Hagel was pliable, someone who was just going to go along with whatever decision they made and not to offer disagreements whether in private or in public, I think that was a huge mistake on their part. And so I think as I said as the story unfolds and as we get more perspectives on it, we’ll see the level of disagreement that was within the administration, within Obama’s Cabinet between Secretary Hagel and more hawkish members.

RT: Chuck Hagel is known for his anti-militaristic approach to U.S. foreign policy. Now that he’s going does it mean the Pentagon will become more aggressive?

MH: I think, unfortunately, the administration has bowed to pressure from both within the administration, from those in the administration who are beholding to a pro-intervention or a “military-first” policy as well as to very hawkish or warmongering senators on Capitol Hill. So I think the Obama Administration has made a commitment to expand America’s role in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars. I think that is a cycle that will only worsen and deepen. Case in point – Afghanistan – where the United States escalated the war in 2009.Five years later, there is no end in sight for the war, the Afghan people continue to suffer, the government remains incredibly corrupt, the Taliban are stronger and the drug trade is the only industry in the country. I think what’s happening with American re-escalation of the war – sending American troops back into combat – is that President Obama is bowing to pressure, feeling stoned by abusing criticism that he is not tough enough. He is recommitting American troops to the war in Afghanistan, so that he cannot be criticized for ending the war prematurely. [But] they have been there for 13 years and that war, according to polls it has an 83 percent unfavorability rating in the United States, and is most unpopular war in American history, even more unpopular than the wars in Iraq or Vietnam.