Hi friends. I am really excited to moderate this book reading and discussion, on behalf of Veterans For Peace, with Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai about her latest novel The Mountains Sing. Please join us Wednesday, May 6 at 4pm EST. Participants can purchase the book at a reduced rate.
My review of The Mountains Sing was published by CounterPunch.
From the VFP webpage:
Please join award winning author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai as she discusses her latest book, The Mountains Sing, a novel about multiple generations of a family living through the decades of war in Vietnam. Hosted by Veterans For Peace, this conversation, to include a reading from The Mountains Sing, will allow attendees to join with Que Mai to discuss the lasting effects of war on all participants. Moderated by Veterans For Peace advisory board member, Matthew Hoh, this will be both a timely and timeless conversation about war, borders, history, nationalities and the urgent need for a renewed dedication towards peace, reconciliation and internationalism.
Born into the Viet Nam War in 1973, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai grew up witnessing the war’s devastation and its aftermath. She worked as a street vendor and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. Upon returning to Vietnam, she helped to foster Vietnam’s sustainable development via her positions with international organizations including UN agencies. The author of eleven books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese and English, Quế Mai has won the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Hanoi Writers Association, the Capital’s Literature & Arts Award, First Prize – the Poetry Competition About 1,000 Years Hanoi… Quế Mai’s main research area is the long lasting impact of wars. She has worked extensively with veterans and war victims. She voluntarily translated Vietnamese and American veterans’ writings, published them and facilitated literary exchanges the purpose of healing, reconciliation and peace. For more information, visit http://www.nguyenphanquemai.com
Matthew Hoh is a member of the advisory boards of Expose Facts, Veterans For Peace and World Beyond War. In 2009 he resigned his position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of the Afghan War by the Obama Administration. He previously had been in Iraq with a State Department team and with the U.S. Marines. He is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy. His review of The Mountains Sing was published by CounterPunch.
Link for purchase:
The Mountains Sing can be purchased as a hard cover book, an e-book or an audiobook. For purchase links, please visit Algonquin Books. For a limited time the author is offering the book at a 20% discount to all VFP members. Please use code VFP20 at checkout.
An overview of the book:
Set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore not just her beloved country, but her family apart.
The Mountains Sing has been praised as “an absorbing, stirring novel” by The New York Times, “luminous” by NPR, “the missing narrative of the American War in Vietnam” by The Star Tribune, and “a window, a view into what we have done and continue to do to so many all over the world” by CounterPunch.
The Mountains Sing had also received strong endorsements from veterans of the Vietnam War. According to Karl Marlantes, bestselling author of Matterhorn, What It’s Like to Go to War, “Reading this novel, I was moved by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s beautiful, even poetic, depictions of enduring courage. I came away with a deeper understanding of the war in which I fought.” According to Larry Heinemann, author of Paco’s Story, winner of the National Book Award, “The Mountains Sing is a beautiful story of the simple challenge of keeping a family together and the courage of perseverance. It is told with the sureness of a master storyteller with a poet’s spirit. A large and complicated story, marvelous to read.”
Quế Mai is excited and honored to join Matthew Hoh in a conversation about her book. She will be reading from The Mountains Sing and answer the audience questions.
I hope 2020 is going well for everyone. Thank you so much to those supporting me on Patreon. Your assistance is invaluable, I can’t emphasize that enough. Thank you.
This year has begun for so many around the world the same way as the last one did, and the one before that, and the one before that, etc. Tens of millions of people are, from sub-Saharan Africa to Pakistan, living lives consumed and controlled by violence, suffering and homelessness. Medical care, food and clean water are near non-existent for many this winter as they live as refugees in tent camps or struggle to survive in their own cities and villages. The cause of this is war. I don’t use the plural of wars as the root cause of this mass suffering, a suffering unknown on the planet over such a stretch of geography and populations since the Second World War, is US foreign policy.
This suffering floods home. While it is true the US does not endure the missile strikes, the drone attacks, the commando raids, the starvation blockades or the roadside bombs that have ruined so much life abroad, we are a nation that is as captive to this war as the people directly consumed by it. The violence that exists in our actions overseas is mirrored here at home. There are multiples of examples for this and such examples are not coincidence: we are the planet’s largest arms seller and we have more guns here in the US than people; we supply weapons to over 70% of the world’s dictatorships and autocracies, and, at home, anyone who wants a weapon, no matter how sick or depraved they may be, may have one; we have more than 800 foreign military bases, combined the rest of the world has about 15, while here in the US we have the world’s largest prison system ~ 25% of the world’s prisoners with 5% of the world’s population…the examples are seemingly inexhaustible. So it is very true, as Veterans For Peace says, we cannot have peace at home, until we have peace abroad, and vice versa.
As I write this, I am waiting to speak, via Skype, with 500 university students across Iran. Over the last two months, as the US and Iran have dangerously come close to a catastrophic war, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to appear on Iranian television a number of times. I have also had the opportunity to speak with US and European audiences as well, either by attending events virtually via Skype or Zoom, or by appearing on television, internet and radio programs. I will link several of these interviews below.
It is not a hidden fact the vast majority of public discussion on US foreign policy and war is dominated by a belief in violence, an ahistorical understanding of the world and the US’ role in it, and by a controlling interest of money and industry. However, there is nothing we can do other than fight against a system that continues to prolong, renew and create suffering unlike any the world has seen in three quarters of a century. We also cannot restrict our conversations to our own selves, we must reach out to those we are told are ourenemy and that is why I am so happy to have the time and ability to be able to appear on Iranian television and virtually attend conferences so I may speak to Iranians and others we are told to not just hate, but to see killed. For these reasons your support of me and my work is so very important and it is why I am so grateful.
Please let me know if there are things you think I should be doing more of or better, and please, if you are so inclined, pass along this note to others and encourage them to support me in my work via Patreon. Thank you again.
Counterpunch was kind enough to publish a long essay of mine that deconstructs the myths and lies used to continuously propel the war forward in Afghanistan. The essay utilizes US government, UN and major media sources, as well as many of my experiences, to argue for peace in Afghanistan. I am very happy with the reception this essay has received, most especially honored by its translation into Dari and Pashto by Afghan friends.
MARC STEINER:Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us today.
Seventeen years ago, the war started in Afghanistan. Seems like this is a war with no end. I remember interviewing Hamid Karzai as he was hiding in a cave just crossing the border back into Afghanistan. So many thought it was just, a war that we needed; it was a just war because Americans were revenging the 3000 deaths of 9/11. But doing so completely unaware of why the Taliban was in power in the first place, and how the United States was complicit in their coming to power in many ways, and in creating the likes of, yes, bin Laden.
Now, this week three Americans were killed, more in one day than any time this year. In retaliation, American and allied forces bombed a village they said was Taliban controlled. And later, when they learned that 30 civilians were killed, said they didn’t realize civilians were living there. Among the dead were 16 children. Then a British office was bombed in retaliation, and others were killed, one Brit and five Afghans. The UN reported that the number of civilian casualties from air attacks was higher in the first nine months of this year than any year since 2009.
It’s been a year since the Trump buildup of forces to Afghanistan and more money being spent. So what are we actually fighting for? What Is this war about? When will it end? How do we know where this war is taking us? These are questions many people are to ask themselves. The war’s cost 105,000 Afghan deaths, 7,000 American lives, hundreds of thousands wounded, and even more affected by the war. All this and the Taliban’s still strong enough to be on the verge of seizing power.
To help us wade through the latest news and what lies ahead is Matthew Hoh. A senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, former director of the Afghan Study Group, who was a Marine Corps officer in the Iraq war. And he 2009 he publicly resigned his position in the State Department in Afghanistan in opposition to the escalation of that war then, in 2009. He’s also a member of Veterans for Peace. And Matthew, welcome. Good to have you with us.
MATTHEW HOH:Hi, Marc. Thank you for having me on.
MARC STEINER:So I’m just curious about your reaction to the latest series of events, to start with, what’s at the top of the news. The killing of the American soldiers, the death of American soldiers, the retaliation to the bombing that killed 30 civilians, 16 children; then the next attack that took place at a British office. So I mean, every time we hear this news it seems like greater escalation, more deaths. What was your initial reaction to all this?
MATTHEW HOH:Well it’s the cycle of violence. I mean, this is, this is what’s occurred there in Afghanistan, not since 9/11, but since the 1970s. Something, as you mentioned in your introduction, we’ve been complicit in. I mean, we were–the United States–was funding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. I mean, this has been going on for nearly 40 years now. And it is, it is a tragedy. It’s immense suffering. The numbers of casualties are undercounted. When an airstrike occurs like what we saw this week in Helmand and kills 30 people, we are aware of it. But smaller airstrikes, I could tell you this from my experience being there, smaller airstrikes, or airstrikes where the locals don’t alert the media, or the Afghan government doesn’t alert the media, go underreported, or undercounted.
So the idea that this is the most amount of civilians killed by air strikes since ’09 is certainly true. But I would hesitate to believe that that’s the actual number. The number is probably a much greater. And you see with this war a continual pattern, a continual pattern now of talks, a continual pattern of money and foreign troops being put into Afghanistan, a continual escalation of the war by the West and the Afghan government. And, of course, the response by the insurgency, most prominent among them what we call the Taliban, in a complete [an] appropriate response. Again, you’re in a cycle of violence here that, unless it’s broken–and when I mean broken, I mean the funding is cut off, the support is cut off for all parties so that the violence simply can’t occur anymore–it’s just going to continue to go on.
So we’re all kidding ourselves if we’re thinking that these talks, like this five-year plan which is the latest thing that’s coming out the Afghan government, peace will come in five years, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s going to make any real difference for the lives of the Afghan people.
MARC STEINER:This is a slight digression. I’m very curious, as you were speaking about this. I mean, so whether you were in Vietnam, whether you were in Afghanistan or Iraq, if you are a soldier fighting or whether you are a civilian working in that war, you get jaundiced pretty quickly about what’s going on around you. So the question is, I’m curious, from your time both as a soldier in Iraq–as a Marine, excuse me. Don’t want to insult you. [crosstalk]
MATTHEW HOH:I don’t, I’m not the guy that does the whole [inaudible]. I can’t do nearly the number of pullups I used to be able to do. I don’t [inaudible] get too concerned if people don’t get the right title.
MARC STEINER:OK, just checking. Just–I know how it is. But given your time in Afghanistan working with the State Department, I’m curious what is the tenor of the men and women working there, working on the, in the American sphere, about what we’re doing, what we’re really accomplishing, or not. And how you have to hide the reality from yourself, almost, to continue the work that you’re doing.
MATTHEW HOH:Yeah. I mean, I can–one thing I can tell you is that it has been nine years since I publicly resigned, and it was on the front page of the Washington Post, the Today Show, and everything. So it wasn’t–my resignation was pretty prominent. And you know, no reason of my own, really Forrest Gumped myself into that. But in the last nine years, the number of negative responses I’ve received from service members who are folks who served in Afghanistan I can count on my one hand. I have received hundreds, if not thousands, of positive responses from men and women who have been with the military, or with our civilian agencies in Afghanistan.
What you’re seeing is within the military, guys get the golden handcuffs. They get locked into their careers. They get locked into the fact that pay and benefits and everything in the military is pretty good right now. They get into the notion that I’m a professional soldier, or a professional Marine, or sailor, or airman. And so I don’t make the policy, I just enforce it. A lot of us would say, hey, that’s … You’re surrendering your soul and your conscience that way. So this zombie-like adherence to what’s occurring there, and looking for excuses, looking for ways to lie to yourself, looking for other metrics to determine whether or not what you’re doing is successful. I took my Marines to Iraq, or I took my Marines to Afghanistan, and only a couple were killed, or none were killed, or only a few were wounded, or–you know, trying to find ways to justify your actions. And that’s certainly what I did. I went three times to war, twice for Iraq and in Afghanistan. And it was–you become numb to that.
But when you get to a position, I think, where you’ve seen the realities of the policymaking, you’ve seen the realities of what we’re doing there, you’ve seen both conflicts–in my case both Iraq and Afghanistan–you see that neither is different. The only thing that matters is that the U.S. is occupying both countries. You’re going to have the same outcomes. In my case, where in Afghanistan I was meeting with the interlocutors, or actually Taliban themselves, and reporting back to the embassy and being told we’re not interested in negotiating, we’re not interested in finding peace, we’re interested in victory, we’re interested in winning, you realize, like, well, I can no longer go home and meet somebody who lost a son or a husband in these wars and tell them it was worthwhile. At the same time too, you see enough dead children, you see enough dead kids, you see enough grieving women in these countries, many of it from our actions, and you start to break, as I was doing.
So part of it is the constant cycling of people into Iraq and Afghanistan, or into Syria, into into these positions, so that they’re coming back out and then going back in, they’re not continuously getting burned out or overwhelmed by it. But it is a question, because–and I think now you start to get into issues of like, why did we get rid of the draft? We have not seen anything like what we saw in Vietnam, where by the early ’70s the U.S. Army, in particular, was completely broken. Where the U.S. Army was experiencing mutinies nearly every week, where units were refusing to fight. By the Army’s own estimate, a quarter of its officers who were killed in Vietnam were killed by their own soldiers. And that’s a conservative estimate. I mean, so we have seen nothing like that in these wars. And that’s, that’s, part of it is why they created this volunteer army, or in many ways like a mercenary army.
MARC STEINER:So–I’m sorry, go ahead. Americans are deeply disconnected from this war. It is very different in Vietnam, or even–especially World War II. People are disconnected because people don’t have a, aren’t in this fight personally at any level, for the most part, in this country.
So the question becomes if we are now in this war that is being escalated by the Trump administration, where more people are being killed then were in the previous years, and in the last years, here, of Obama–not saying it was great under Obama, but nonetheless was of Obama. And I just spoke just the other day with people who had just come back from Helmand province who were saying that, you know, the Taliban is in complete control of the rural areas. You cannot go out at night. Even in the cities you can’t go out at night. So if that’s the case, I mean, what is the endgame here? I mean, how do you get out of this war? How do you stop it? And if the Taliban is really that strong, and you know, for years you’ve seen people some people in the Karzai government and others were trying to negotiate with what they call the good Taliban, to try make some peace, headway. And the Americans didn’t like–kind of opposed them doing that, as well. So in any sense, what is the endgame here? I mean, what–how do you see it?
MATTHEW HOH:The Trump administration has brought about a new era in U.S. foreign policy and U.S. militarism. The Trump administration is different than the Bush and Obama administrations. While both Bush and Obama with the wars in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, were completely wrong-headed, criminal, they honestly thought they could find a way out. They honestly thought that they could bring about some type of political change. They believed that with elections, by building schools and healthcare centers, that we could bring about a change in political structure in these countries that favored the United States.
You have to understand, this is something that goes back decades now. I won’t get into prior to World War II, but certainly we had our imperial ambitions, right, for in this country before World War II. Simply ask the Native Americans, ask Hawaiians, ask Filipinos, et cetera. But after World War II what you see is the United States gets put in this position that is summarized best by George Kennan, who was the American diplomat who came up with the containment strategy of the Soviet Union. So a famed American diplomat. In 1948 he says, you know, he says, the United States now has 50 percent, more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth. We’re only 6 percent the world’s population. That’s a disparity that’s going to prove really hard to keep. But it’s our purpose to keep that disparity, and we have to do whatever it takes.
And from that point, I mean, you can trace when he says that to seeing what we did in Italy and Greece, right into Korea, into Vietnam. The dictatorships we supported in Indonesia, the Philippines, what we did in South America, and especially what we’ve done in the Middle East. Now, the idea of the Bush and Obama administration was that somehow we would do these military actions that would bring about political change in these countries that would make Iraq be the same color on the map that the United States is, right. It’s like this is one big game of Risk, basically. Or Afghanistan was going to be the same color as the United States.
Under the Trump administration, because I really believe of the significant influence that the generals like General Mattis and General Kelly, who are the secretary of defense and White House chief of staff, as well as other officials and other theorists who have gone into this Trump administration, you have a Trump administration that doesn’t see any purpose in trying to have such political change in these countries to create a new political order. What they believe is that you can just subjugate, and that’s the best way to go about it. You’ve tried elections, you’ve tried building healthcare centers, you tried building schools, you’ve tried to win hearts and minds. It didn’t work. So what we do is basically we subjugate those parts of those countries, and in this way keep our proxies in power.
So we’ve seen that. We’ve seen that already, say, like in Iraq, where rather than trying to do any type of political change with the Sunnis, we basically backed Shia armies and Kurdish armies with massive airpower, flattened every Sunni city in Iraq. I mean, the cities along the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys are completely flattened. Tens and tens of thousands killed; tens and tens of thousands are still missing. Millions displaced. And that’s the way they’re going to do it from now on. So basically–yeah.
MARC STEINER:I’m curious about–so what you’re describing here, though, as we conclude, just describing here is a strategy in the Trump administration that in some ways, even though the other strategies have been wrong-headed, flawed, and this war is insanely wrong. But this is–we’re escalating in a dangerous new way, here, in which rather than finding a way to pull out and end it, we’re actually escalating this in a way that is detrimental to Afghanistan and to us.
MATTHEW HOH:Yes, exactly. And this is what you expect from a cycle of violence, right. Cycles of violence continue to escalate. We engage in these wars in the Middle East, we occupy these countries. We tried by using religious sects against one another, by using ethnicities against one another. You’re seeing that right now in Afghanistan, the ethnic splits really occurring, with the Taliban attacking the Hazara minority. And this is this goes back–again, this goes back 40-some odd years. That goes back to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s ideas in the Carter administration to use ethnic and religious differences in the Soviet Union, particularly in Central Asia, to light the Soviet Union afire; to cause them problems, right.
So this is why it’s important that we don’t talk about Afghanistan in the sense that it began on 9/11, because this goes back decades. And what we’re seeing right now is the culmination of this type of imperial militarist policies that have by necessity morphed into–look, if you’re looking to see how Secretary Mattis talks about himself, he speaks of himself as if he’s like a legionnaire. He speaks about defending the republic. He describes the United States as being the apex of civilization. Basically, the idea that they are defending the United States and other parts of the empire, Europe and such, against the barbarians, and that we’re always going to be fighting in these borderlands, basically. And you’re going to look and you see John Kelly, the chief of staff of the White House, he said the same types of things.
And so that’s what you’re seeing with this Trump administration, basically. Subjugate those who won’t fall in line. Keep in power our proxies. Use other proxies. So that’s why you’re, that’s why this year you’ve only seen 12 Americans killed in Afghanistan. We’ve killed more Afghans than any other year since 2009. But we’ve only lost 12 Americans. That keeps it out of the papers, right. That keeps it off of CNN. You know, so let the Afghans kill the Afghans. Use the ethnic differences to really help subjugate one another. Use the Shia and Kurds to keep the Sunnis in line in Iraq. Use the Sunni Saudis and UAE forces to keep control in Yemen. So on and so on.
And so where this goes to–my God. I mean, it leads towards genocide. It leads to displacement, and it leads to further horrors and suffering that, you know, many people have been saying all along will be the consequences of this.
MARC STEINER:So very quickly here, as we conclude now. But I want to go back to where we began and just ask you, when the Americans and allied forces said they did not know there were civilians in this Taliban village, the Taliban-controlled village that they bombed in retaliation for the killing of the Americans, how real is that? I mean, how do you not know that where the Taliban are, civilians–you know, it’s the same stuff in Vietnam.
MATTHEW HOH:Yeah. As a guy–as a guy who did this, as a guy who was part of that stuff, as a guy who had Top Secret clearances, who took part in ground combat, who was involved–I’ve been involved in all kinds of levels. I was in the Secretary of the Navy’s office. Am I allowed to say–it was complete fucking bullshit. Can I say that on The Real News? I mean, like-
MARC STEINER:That describes it succinctly.
MATTHEW HOH:That’s bullshit. How can you not know–that, that’s like bombing a house in the United States and saying you didn’t know that there’d be a family in there. I mean, it’s complete bullshit. It’s complete nonsense. It’s–and what you do–this is what’s interesting. Last year, when the journalist Anand Gopal, and I’m blanking on who his counterpart was, they went into Iraq and they found that the United States was, by a factor of like 37 or 38, miscounting the numbers of civilians that were killed. Basically underreporting civilian deaths in the thousands. And then you look and you see what these Air Force general or Army generals say about it. And what it is, though, is that they basically are able to lie to themselves. And what it comes down to is if all the sources–if your sources in the military, if your intelligence people say they weren’t killed, if your pilots didn’t see them killed, if what the regulations say–if that’s, if that’s what–that’s what’s going. If that’s what it is, then they weren’t killed. That’s how they’re still able to lie to themselves so callously, so cruelly. How they were able to murder these people. And our generals shrug and say, well, now, that’s not the case. Because we didn’t–you know, our people said it didn’t happen. So it’s not the case.
You develop a mentality–it’s a sickness, really. But to be able to have that kind of dissonance with reality … yeah. And these generals who are in charge now, they were junior officers when this war began. So they’ve been brought up on-.
MARC STEINER:On this war.
MATTHEW HOH:Just decades now of lying. And getting away with it. And being promoted because they lie, or lied.
MARC STEINER:That’s an interesting perspective. I never thought about that before.
Matthew Hoh, this has been a pleasure to talk with you. I look forward to doing many more conversations. Thank you for the work, and thank you for standing up.
MATTHEW HOH:Thank you, Marc. Appreciate it.
MARC STEINER:We were talking to Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and a Marine Corps veteran of the wars that we seem to be stuck in. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. Take care.
Chris Smiley at The Peace Report has put together an excellent short video where I describe what we did in Iraq to what I saw being done by the Israeli army and police forces to Palestinians. This is the latest documentary that Chris has assembled utilizing footage from our delegation to Palestine last year:
Also here is a longer, 40 minutes, documentary that Chris put together and released a couple of months ago that I don’t believe I have previously shared:
Over the last month I have done a series of four interviews with Blase Bonpane on his show World Focuson 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.
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.
I have a benefit tonight that I am speaking at in support of Palestine. In the toast I am to give, I will reference other struggles against oppression and occupation, particularly those resistance struggles that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to stand with in solidarity this past year: in Okinawa, at Standing Rock and in Palestine.
For someone like me, who had professionally studied war and insurgencies for years, and then executed such knowledge on behalf of the US government in support of the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, being on the other side of the rifle was heartbreaking and difficult, as seeing the military and police enforcing the racist occupations, political oppression and environmental destruction was a mirror held up to me, reflecting my own past, my own mistakes, my own collaboration with greed, hate and subjugation. Being allowed the opportunity to stand with these resistance movements was rewarding and it was healing, as it was a form of recovery for my moral injury and guilt from the wars. I can never undo or repair what I took part in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I can, going forward in my life, live a life working with others for peace and justice, both at home and abroad.
The commonness and similarities that exist between these resistance movements are many: a firm belief in and understanding of non-violence; the use of music and song; and the graciousness and openness to outsiders, like myself and other white veterans of the American military whose relationship to the occupation forces and powers cannot be ignored or dismissed, but are understood as the actions of the colonial and imperial powers and not the actions, will or soul of the individual soldier, or Marine in my case.
There is also something that runs very deep, is very true, and that exists within all these resistance movements. Something prime and underlining, a force that is infinite and enduring is the intangible reality that exists in all of the men, women and children who are struggling for their society’s freedom, for the preservation of their land, water and air, and for the chance for their children and grandchildren to live lives not held in obeyance to the guns and violence of a foreign, abusive and repressive power. I have no other choice for my description of what I witnessed and stood among than to use the word divine to explain what it is that moves, sustains and carries forward these movements and people. Words like justice, peace, freedom, and safety have their well deserved places as descriptions of what these movements strive for, but it is the word divine that I come back to when I think of what it is which motivates, maintains and upholds these movements and what it is that links them together across continents, religions and races, and, ultimately, time.
I saw this again in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, where myself and other white allies escorted black students from Howard University through the city streets. There was something divine, again a better word I stumble trying to find, behind the purposes of those students from Howard, a very existent and timeless connection to something beyond the human experience that animates our desires for truth, justice, equality and peace. This force, this beyond-human force, ties together these movements now, and ties them to the movements of the past, to their ancestors who suffered and were persecuted in their struggles of liberation, fights for peace, and marches for equality, whether there be a direct lineage of descent to those ancestors or an ancestry consisting of purpose and principle removed by epochs of historical and geographic separation.
I’m an intellectual, logical and rational atheist a good 6 1/2 days a week, but what I experienced in Okinawa, Standing Rock, Palestine and Charlottesville these past twelve months moved me with a force much greater than any and all of the spirited nationalist formulations or conceptions of brotherhood I ever encountered or beheld in my time as a Marine or while working for the US government. This force, this divine presence, cannot be discounted, diminished or dismissed, but is as factual and proven to me in its effect and purpose as any rifle I ever held, any money I was ever paid, or any exceptionalist American myth I ever consumed.
It is why anyone who has taken part in these movements can receive healing from their own sins in war, as I have; it is why even those who have been silenced by jailing or with bullets and bombs have never truly been defeated – lost to us with great sorrow and grief, yes, of course – but not defeated; and it is why these movements will ultimately be successful, because the divine that is the foundation of these movements and these people cannot be extinguished, cannot be undone, bought or quieted, as this spirit will always carry forward this generation and subsequent ones.
To see and understand some of the divine involvement that is present in the people of Palestine and the Palestinian Popular Resistance movement, please watch Chris Smiley’s latest video of the Veterans For Peace delegation I participated in to Palestine earlier this year.
UPDATE: If you would like to donate to help those men and women who brought down the statue of the Confederate soldier in Durham with legal costs you can donate here: Durham Solidarity Center
These men and women are Americans. Nazis were Germans. Call them what they are in Charlottesville: White Supremacists, Klansmen, Confederates, Racists. When we call them Nazis, we associate them with the Other, we disassociate them from ourselves, from the United States, from our laws and from our history. It may be easier for some to use the word Nazi, it may ring more loudly and play more dramatically, particularly for the media, but the truth is these are our people, we need to own them, particularly white people, and so we must call them by the names of who and what they are and not give them names that make it easier for us to distance and disassociate ourselves.
If I use the word Nazi, I am protecting myself and those in my white American community, because the word is narrow and strictly defined; it’s limited, it’s grotesque, it’s hard for me to think of anyone I know whom I am related to by blood or by affection that I could fit into such a characterization, into such a costume. But, if I use a word other than Nazi, something broader, something more open, something more familiar, something more American, now I can think of people I know.
It is my fellow white brothers and sisters who have used the words and phrases that underline and validate the 60 million strong Trump movement that doesn’t just step and march underneath the banner of racism, but also beneath the flags of misogyny, homophobia and nationalism. The riposte from them will be that those historical elements and those openly racist personas apply to the fringesof the 60 million, because those I know who chose to vote for Trump did so because of tax cuts and jobs, want a wall because of jobs, want to privatize schools to allow for better economic competition etc, etc, etc… Ah, but of course…However, it is now necessary to quote the horribly influential, maniacally capable, and devilishly intelligent Lee Atwater, the man behind Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, a man who would not even be 70 years old today if he were still alive; imagine what Lee Atwater’s role would have been over the last 26 years if he had not died when he was 40? You think Karl Rove was bad? Karl Rove was an ersatz Lee Atwater for George Bush the Younger…
Lee Atwater explaining the Republican Southern Strategy, as quoted by Alexander Lamis in 1981:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”’
What it takes to defeat those marching in torchlight in Charlottesville, who are not the descendants of those of the Nuremberg rallies, but rather are American men and women walking in the steps of and with the purposes of those who committed the atrocities of the slave plantations and the Native American reservations, is to stand like those who opposed the Confederates, the Klansmen, and the Racists in Charlottesville. More so, it is to go beyond that and to speak with those who are carrying those torches, again particularly those of us who are white, in order to get them to extinguish the flames on the torches. Best would be to speak with these men and women to convince them that there is a better path to walk and that there is a community to join that does not require the carrying of torches, a community that does not have a history of hate, exclusion, and genocide, and that there is a community that fights, that marches, and that sacrifices to achieve and maintain true freedom and equality for all people.
To go farther though we have to recognize the injustices that are resident in the political system itself, and just as Northern businessmen in the first half of the 19th century were in no hurry to see slavery abolished in the United States, despite the very fanciful myth of an all encompassing and altruistic abolitionism in the North, so it must be recognized that the neoliberal policies of the Democratic Party of the last 30 years have shattered the lives of hundreds of millions of peoples both internally and externally to the United States, most predominately people of color. With this we must abandon old political loyalties, we must eschew political sensibilities, and we must break open a new economic and social justice for all people, because believing that the established political classes and authorities will do so is simply just insane.
The foundational documents that created the United States established our country within a political and economic system of racism. The electoral college system and its attendant Three/Fifths Compromise, that thing which gave us Donald Trump last November, not the Russians and Putin, is one of such pillars of that state system of slavery that to this day remains a functioning part of the US Constitution, our political process and our overt society.
Fortunately, protest and people coming together to change the system and our country for the better have also been a part of America’s history. I was in Chicago this past week at the Veterans For Peace convention, returning last night, and so I missed some very just, honorable and righteous people pulling down a statue in Durham, NC, a statue that had been dedicated to the men who were the guardians of slavery, a statue that should never have been raised. I happen to know one or two of those people who performed that toppling, better people I don’t know.
I believe in non-violence. Removing a statue that celebrates the guardians of slavery is a worthy and defendable non-violent action, and it is something I will always endorse.
My friends, let’s speak true words to one another and let’s wage peace.
When I was in DC at the end of May, I taped an interview on Afghanistan with Chris Hedges. Chris is a Pulitzer Prize winning former NY Times reporter and author who has for so many years been a brilliantly dominant force in writing painfully objective, truthful and explosive articles, essays and books on American foreign policy and society. It was my first time getting to spend any substantial amount of time with Chris, as we had the better part of the afternoon together, an afternoon I am very thankful for having had. I basically feel like I got a free graduate seminar 🙂
Here’s the interview:
Here also is Chris’ speech from the previous day at the Lincoln Memorial during the Veterans For Peace antiwar rally:
My friend Ariel Gold, who works for Code Pink as their Middle East Campaign Director, is in Palestine to support Issa Amro. Issa is a Palestinian human rights leader who recently was put on trial by the Israeli military. Ariel, who is Jewish and from NY, actively supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). BDS is a Palestinian led, international, nonviolent effort to change the government of Israel’s well documented apartheid policy towards the Palestinian people; much the same way boycotts were used in the American South to support the Civil Rights movement and all three actions were used against the South African government. I support BDS as well. I strongly urge you to do so too. You can find out how to do so here.
Earlier this year, the government of Israel declared that people who support BDS would be denied entry into Israel. Israel also continued to declare BDS to be an anti-semitic movement, which it is not; claiming that BDS is anti-semitic is about as justifiable as claiming the boycott movements that were utilized against the Jim Crow American South or Apartheid South Africa were anti-white or anti-Christian. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago, Ariel was not denied entry. However, after attending Issa’s trial, a right wing newspaper announced Ariel’s presence to the Israeli government, complaining that the Israeli government was not living up to its promise to ban people like Ariel. Of course, Ariel could be deported, but there is also the danger that members of the often violent communities that compose the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank may identify Ariel and take matters into their own hands. Ariel, true to her self, has not backed down and, showing great courage, is still in Palestine working alongside her Palestinian brothers and sisters. You can read more about this here:
and watch this short video:
Peter Van Buren, whose book on his time in Iraq, We Meant Well, got him fired from the State Department has a new book out: Hooper’s War. It is a novel of alternative history, set during an American invasion of mainland Japan. It is an anti-war novel and it is excellent. Peter sent me an advance copy and asked me to blurb it. This was my honest-to-God response after reading it:
“PVB obviously is a scholar and historian both of Japan and America, there is no doubt to that as you read Hooper’s War, a modern day Catch 22 or Slaughter House Five that we desperately need. Peter has obviously been to war, as have I, and his heart has been broken, as has mine. He broke it again, several times in Hooper’s War, I wasn’t sure I had that much left to break. He’s owed a debt of gratitude for this, for bearing such witness and testimony for so many millions who cannot do so for themselves, those who have been so ghastly immolated in our past and current wars and who can only cry out when people like Peter do so for them.”
Peter has done a number of interviews on Hooper’s War over the last several months, but this one, with Scott Horton, is one I very much recommend for Peter and Scott’s deep, thoughtful and moving discussion on war and moral injury. For those who don’t have a full hour or if you only have a few minutes, I recommend beginning the interview at around the 27 minute mark, where Peter defines moral injury and speaks about veteran suicide.
My friend Bill, who runs the blog The Contrary Perspective, recommended B. Traven’s The Death Ship to me. Traven is best known for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Written eighty years ago, Traven’s prose, style and tone is reminiscent of that generation’s cadre of post WWI ex-pats, of which he was one. The book is an excoriation of the world post-war, of the new establishments and conventions that arose post-war, of the stupidity of the war itself of course, but of the new ways of the world in particular. The resemblances and similarities to today’s world are genuine and rattling. My response to Bill upon completing The Death Ship, with a bit redacted so as to try not and spoil the ending:
“I used to keep all my books, however several years ago I decided to unload my library with the exception of the books that had personal meaning to me or with the exception of the books that caused me to think or kept me thinking. I thought about The Death Ship every day I read it and I’ve thought about it in the days since I finished it. I have a feeling, in a few months, when I make a run to the used book store to sell back my books that The Death Ship will remain behind in my house.
As I write this now, I am struck by the prescient savagery of Traven’s thesis, summarized _______________at the very end of the book. All because of bureaucracy, all because of man-made borders; borders that didn’t exist prior to________, borders that were soon to be erased again _________. The nonsense of it all, the cruelty of it all, and it all still plays out now.
I think you are aware that I was just in Palestine in February and March, where I spent time with people who have been ruined by such borders and their attendant walls. In October, prior to that, I was North Dakota, where to my embarrassment and shame, I spent the first moments of my life, ever, and it is half over, with the Native American community, those people who are the living lineage of 500 years of genocide, but whose more modern history and current lives are dominated by these inventions of borders, treaties, walls, reservations, etc. And, of course, my own time in Iraq and Afghanistan, two nations that had their borders drawn by the West, their people corralled, marshaled, divided and amalgamated.
So now I have Traven’s other book’s on my list to look for when I step into used books stores :)”
Finally, Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary on our drone killing program National Bird is available on Netflix. I am mentioning this because I want you to watch it. Not just as it is so well done, so important, and because Sonia does such an admirable and honorable job in informing us of the reality of the brutal, criminal and senseless killings we are conducting with our flying robots against thousands and thousands of innocent people, every day, but also because Sonia documents so very well the lives of three people who were involved in the drone program AND WHAT THEY DID ABOUT IT. One of them, Lisa Ling, has become a friend of mine these last few years, and a hero of mine. So if you haven’t seen it, please give National Bird a viewing, even if you know about the drone program, you’ll see what three courageous people did about something they knew was wrong.
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.
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.
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.
Veterans For Peace is holding a series of events and actions this upcoming Memorial Day weekend in Washington, DC. The events begin on Thursday, May 25th with the Swords into Plowshares Belltower at the Lincoln Memorial and culminate Tuesday, May 30th with a rally and speakers at the Lincoln Memorial and a march to the White House and a presentation of demands.
More information on the events in DC can be found here.
In order for us to let people know about the events and, in particular, the rally, we need to advertise. We have a TV advertisement, which we will run in the Washington, DC area on MSNBC. If you can, and I know everyone is receiving many, many requests for money and donations right now, but if you can, please help us advertise, so that we can let as many people know as possible that veterans are gathering against war, against militarism and against the system that is destroying our society, our future and our planet.
If you can give $5, $20 or more we can let millions of people know we will be there, in DC, the heart of the Empire, so they can join us and so they, thousands of them, may join us outside the Lincoln Memorial, march to the White House and fight for Peace and against war; for Life and against death; for Love and against hate; for those things we need and we cherish in our society; and against the greed and the destruction that we have too much already in our society. Please donate here.
This is the advertisement we will run. Please feel free to share it widely:
I’ll be one of the speakers that day. I will say something similar to what I said to the tens and tens of thousands of people I spoke to in February on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh when I was blessed to be a part of Reverend William Barber’s Moral March:
Below, from last month, is Reverend Barber’s sermon from the Riverside Church in NYC on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’sBeyond Vietnamspeech. If you have not seen or heard it, please take an hour to do so, it is well worth the time. I do not think there is a better explanation for the purposes behind what we will be doing in Washington, DC at the end of this month than Reverend Barber’s sermon.
Finally, I have pasted below the letter that Barry Ladendorf, the President of Veterans For Peace, sent to President Trump in March of this year. Of course, Barry has not received a reply from the White House.
Letter from Barry Ladendorf, President, Veterans For Peace to President Donald Trump, March 30, 2017:
Dear President Trump,
We want our Peace Bonus.
As you may know, a bonus was promised to the American soldiers who fought World War I—the “war to end all war,” but they called it, “hell on earth.” More than their bonuses, those soldiers wanted peace. They gathered in Washington in 1932 to demand payment of their bonus, but they were met with violence, in their own nation’s capital, just for trying to claim what was rightfully theirs.
I am president of Veterans For Peace (VFP), a national organization of military veterans with a visceral understanding of war and its causes. We have come to believe in nonviolence as a more effective and humane response to conflict.
In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said prophetically, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
I wish to convey our serious opposition to your administration’s policy of increasing the military budget while decreasing and even eliminating funding for vital social services.
As veterans, we have long recognized that increases to an already bloated Pentagon budget are what keep us in the business of war. We in VFP are not fooled into thinking that this budget makes our country any safer.
Marine General Smedley Butler, two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, pronounced, “War is a racket.” We believe that and we are sick of it. Butler’s sentiment is still resonant today. In the words of our own Matt Hoh, a former State Department official and Marine captain: “The killing, the organized murder we engaged in, benefitted only the profits of the defense corporations, the salaries of retired generals, and the terrorist groups themselves.”
We speak for the majority of U.S. citizens, who believe your policies are taking innocent lives and endangering more of our young soldiers, who have already given so much in the needless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we have sent more Marines into Syria. Your policies are also causing suffering and despair among immigrants, Muslims, communities of color, women, Native Americans, and LGBTQ communities, and if implemented, these policies will further destroy the environment. Ultimately, they make all of us considerably less secure.
Since these policies do nothing to promote human or planetary betterment, we are left to conclude they are intended to maintain and advance what has sadly become the global U.S. Empire—an empire that, like all empires of the past, exploits and oppresses other nations and the earth itself in order to increase the wealth and power of the very few. Meanwhile common people’s lives become more and more impoverished.
We are now requesting that a delegation from Veterans For Peace be invited to meet with you in person to speak about your policies and how they affect peace, at home and abroad—with independent media present.
Like the bonus marchers of the 1930s, we demand our bonus. The bonus for our service and the many sacrifices of our comrades is peace.