Archive for June, 2006

I had an ear-opening discussion recently with a pacifist mother-of-two who was surprised to discover I was formerly in the armed forces. She inquired about the ‘extent’ of my ‘involvement’ in the war, rather the ‘nature’ of my ‘commitment’ to the campaign while I was deployed; in short, had I killed anyone and how did I feel about my previous job that potentially demanded my doing so?

Before I responded, I thought for a moment about the presumption of the warrior as the one who kills. It seems obvious, from the muzzle of the smoking gun that has ended human life, trace backwards from one mechanical part to the next until you reach the trigger; the finger that is closest is connected to the man/woman whom you may rightfully label a murderer, right?

I wonder, though, if that is the whole story. Two strangers, one has killed the other, but not before traveling from one continent to another, enduring harsh and unforgiving living/working conditions, and indeed risking his/her own life to do so. I believe there may be some missing pieces to this puzzle that we must add before we can rightfully call it complete. Who else, for surely there must be others, is involved in this murder? You will find all accomplices in much the same manner that you discovered the triggerman: from the origins (politicians/government officials) of a conflict that has ended numerous human lives, trace downward through the social structure until you reach the very bottom (the citizens of a ‘participatory’ government, the enablers of the most influential world power to act); the closest able-to-vote, law-abiding, tax-paying, suburban middle-class mother is the passive, behind-the-scenes culprit of the 1st-person killer.

Consider the two of these people; their similarities are fascinating. The soldier is obeying orders because he must do so in order to provide for his family. The civilian is paying taxes and spending residual income, activities that drive the economy, because she must do so in order to provide for her family. The soldier does not have time to be critical of his orders and besides, doing so might jeopardize the stability he has established within the military. The civilian does not have time to be politically aware and active and besides, doing research about things like corporate interests in truth-distortion and the nature of the economic vote could uncover uncomfortable realities that might jeopardize the stability she has established within the American culture of consumerism. They’re like twins separated at birth! -their differing circumstances make them appear different, but they are cut from the same stone.

So who is to blame for the man they killed, government? That’s impossible; government does not physically exist. It has no ulterior motives or evil character-tainting sentiments. Is it the elected officers of government? That’s possible but unlikely; their blame, so far as I can tell, must be equal to that of the soldier’s and the civilian’s. Many of the defensive alibis you will hear from government officials are identical to those of the other two: providing for their families, inadequate time to sharply consider the wholeness of things, desire to avert jeopardizing their stability, and these alibis are, I believe, not illegitimate if the others’ alibis are acceptable. Is it human nature? -Moral impurity? -Some inherent, destructive antisocial pathology that is ingrained or acquired during infancy? I felt these were unlikely explanations as well, for the world must have been at peace before its people were at war, but I ran out of time; I had to respond to her questions lest I be considered rude. For the time, I figured our hands must all share some of the strangers’ blood; remove us all from the scenario and the man would still be alive.

I responded to her questions with a condensed version of what you’ve read above, maintaining eye contact with her, the person I thought I hadn’t a thing in common with, and thinking about the families we killed together. I remember the sun was brutally hot that afternoon but we had discovered refuge in the shade of a towering tree. I watched her two beautiful daughters running around barefoot in the tall grass, safe from all harms I could imagine -safe because no nation in the world behaves like ours, behaves like us.

— Dan Black

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On Wednesday, the other FAIR interns and I attended a book signing event by Greg Palast, author of “Armed Madhouse.” Palast’s presentation was disorganized, hyper theatrical, and frankly, not very convincing.

For one, Plast maintains that John Kerry won the 2004 election. That is, while operating a front website, http://www.GeorgeWBush.org, Palast allegedly obtained Republican ‘caging lists,’ logs of voters, mostly African American and Native American, who were challenged on Election Day. These voters, Palast writes, were issued provisional ballots (as required by the new Help America Vote Act), but their vote was never counted in the official election tally. Palast points to early exit polls (or ‘CNN’s Balls’ as he prefers) which showed Kerry winning the election and argues that millions of Kerry votes were left uncounted since millions of minorities voted on provisional ballots, which according to Palast, were never counted.

I don’t know what to make of this. How was Palast able to obtain the sensitive ‘caging lists?’ His explanation raises some eyebrows. Palast maintains that the lists just landed in his lap. Someone typed in ‘GeorgeWBush.org’ instead of ‘GeorgeWBush.com,’ in the recipients bar of their email program and before they knew it, the Palast investigative team’ found itself researching 60 pages of voter names. Most turned out to eligible, but African American voters who were purged, thus allowing George Bush to win re-election. But if Palast’s information is credible why didn’t Kerry pick up his lead or protest the results? Why is Palast the only reporter making these claims?

Still, as dubious as it sounds, these very reports have appeared on the BBC, a credible news organization and his writings have been endorsed by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and possibly even Noam Chomsky.

Visit Greg’s website or read/listen/watch this interview with Greg on Democracy Now and make up your own mind.

— Igor Volsky

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Headlines appearing in this morning’s newspapers accounted recent events whose details are all too familiar: Death in the Middle East. To suggest that Zarqawi’s death would not diminish the vigor and audacity of the insurgency’s engagement of coalition forces, al Qaeda felt it necessary to substantiate thought with action. Label this action not as merely an isolated atrocity, but as al Qaeda’s line in the 3+ year old turn-based communication between two panels of intercultural discussion. Just us our killing Zarqawi was our previous line to al Qaeda, our responsive action to their recent bombing (still yet to come, but predictably another volley of bombs and bullets that will cost an indeterminable number of civilians’ lives) will be our next line in these ongoing “talks”. I feel my interpretation of these events as communication is apt and reasonable because it captures, if not in an abstract sense, the entirety of interactions between the parties involved.

Although the persistence of these atrocities is undeniable, defined “necessary for the cause of freedom” from the perspective of the war’s supporters (whatever that means), any concerned citizen with a desire for resolution ought to wonder if the combat-based dialogue ever indeed “progresses”. The violence in Iraq seems to occur and recur in cycles -and due to the absence of any diplomatic efforts at attaining peace, it is the only hope of achieving resolve- but if you consider that each cycle is identical in its form, function, and objective as the cycle that preceded it, there truly is no reason to believe the dialogue/violence will ever cease. Why would it? Why will two groups of individuals, two groups who never speak but continually kill one another, suddenly stop? There must be some measure of variation between the isolated conversational evolutions (roadside bombs answered by laser guided bombs; assaulting convoys answered by assaulting civilians) otherwise there is no reason to believe they will ever reach a mutual end; the pattern is not linear -approaching a conclusion, it is circular -approaching itself.

The media focus a great deal of attention to the death of Zarqawi and ask what impact his death will have on the state of affairs in Iraq (they no longer have the stomach to reuse the worn out line “it brings us a step closer to conclusion”) and the answer, as clearly offered by al Qaeda, is probably the same as if you’d posed the question dropping Zarqawi’s name and replacing it with Salvador Guerrero (last American killed in O.I.F.): none. The loss of a single man does not affect the legitimacy nor the nobility, and therefore, not the perpetuation of related activity, of the cause for which he died -not Zarqawi’s death, not Guerrero’s either. The only means by which the ongoing pattern of bloody exchanges between the U.S. and Arab combatants can ever hope reach an end is if they are approaching one through dialogue, whether that dialogue is peaceful (as prescribed by international law) or violent (as demanded necessary but never rationalized by the current administration).

— Dan Black

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A truth as discomforting as it is thought-provoking: the U.S. Army stands to court martial 1st Lt. Ehren Watada for refusing deployment orders to Iraq. Whether or not this escalates into a much-needed critical examination of the conflict Operation Iraqi Freedom (O.I.F.) and its merits will be revealed only as events unfold, but the ugly underbelly of O.I.F. has been undeniably exposed simply by the assertion of Lt. Watada. That the U.S. Army must put on trial an experienced and accomplished soldier, potentially its bravest officer from his recent bold actions, solely for keeping his promise to the American people indicates dysfunction of the entire hierarchy. And dysfunction of an entire social structure is attributable to the corruption of its highest levels. We are not prosecuting a criminal for his deviant behavior; we are prosecuting a soldier whose actions strictly comply with the structure’s original design. –This self-evident perspective is easy to see but the subsequent action it necessitates is difficult; I only fear America’s majority will take a perspective whose discernment is equally easy however fundamentally irrational: that Watada is unpatriotic and cowardly, simply because the subsequent action prescribed by that perspective is effortless.

The conservative critics have exhaustively labeled Ehren Watada a “coward”. Let’s examine the reasoning behind such a label: 1) Cowards run, Watada’s feet are firmly planted; he isn’t going anywhere 2) Cowards hide, Watada is in plain sight; he’s in center spotlight of the public eye. If “coward” is not an appropriate label, then what is? I think “patriot” (in the natural, denotative sense) most accurately captures his identity. His self-appointed obligation to defend the U.S. constitution bequests of him to disobey orders from his superiors that are unlawful, and he is doing exactly that. As history his proven, a life sworn to defend the constitution often incurs hazard, inviting the attacks of those who exist to dissolve and disparage the constitution. Today the tradition is maintained as the brave stance Watada has taken in defense of our constitution is putting him in danger. What is unusual about Watada’s case, though, is where the attacks are coming from: the very same institution Watada has joined in order to defend the constitution.

“All enemies, foreign and domestic” –that’s right from the oath that all U.S. serviceman take, the oath that Watada has yet to betray, and although I have never met the man, I don’t suspect he has any intention of betraying. Those enemies that are distanced from our constitution by Watada’s bravery are those individuals that continuously betray their own oaths, lie to their own people, send the armies they have been entrusted with to fight unjust wars out of corporate interest rather than necessity or the people’s will.

What many veterans of limited critical-thinking skills demand of Lt. Watada is unquestioned obedience to orders. What these veterans cannot see or understand is that unquestioned obedience to orders is so heinously anti-social that it’s preeminence in cultures surface time and again throughout world history in the medium of holocaust, genocide, slavery, and other forms of abject injustice. Those veterans who call him un-American should consult a 4th grade level history book where they would quickly discover America was founded by a serious of defiant acts coupled with a climate of cultural disobedience.

Hail Lt. Watada as a modern American hero, commend him for epitomizing citizenship by keeping the time-honored tradition of protecting our country’s values from the will of tyrants who wish for people to be unfree. Prosecute those who forced upon him only one morally upright course of action, the one directly preceding martyrdom: civil disobedience. In doing so, we shall take 2 steps closer to restoring American Democracy and eradicating fascism.

— Dan Black

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