D-Day memories from an artist of stature

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I first met Knox Martin seven years ago, and every June 6 since I’ve heard his voice.

Back then, I was writing for NYC weekly Chelsea Now about Martin’s “Venus” mural on 19th Street and the West Side Highway, since obscured by Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue condominium complex. When I learned Martin, still fighting for his new anti-war mural “Killing the Whales,” was a veteran of Omaha Beach, I knew I had to talk to him for the book; we sat in his Washington Heights apartment, where he showed me the clipping at left – which was the only way his mother knew, in 1945, that her younger son was alive.

Below are some highlights of what he told me, which my paper published that August for the 60th anniversary of the war’s end.

You mirror your dad, pioneer aviator William Knox Martin, in that you’ve embraced both art and science.

Yes. My father’s uncle was putting him through art school at the University of Maryland, when he walked out of his house one day and saw this thing flying through the air. Very primitive—the airplane had just been invented in 1906. And he said, “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

I was going to be a scientist, too. I went to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, a school known for graduating scientists. I was doing a lot of drawing while at school and was drawing for a WPA project. I was also an avid reader. I was so advanced, I dropped out of the school because I thought, I’m not learning anything here I don’t already know. My father then died, and my uncle asked me to come to Virginia.

You were 19 when Pearl Harbor was hit. Did you know right away that you were going to war?

I knew it was coming: I was an early reader. I read the paper and thought, How can this be, about Hitler? We were at a wealthy family’s house in Scarsdale, N.Y., where the owner was for Hitler. When everyone was out on the lawn, I took every piece of furniture and wrote “Death to Hitler” on the bottom of each one. Then when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, It felt like a deep wound.

I didn’t go in right away. After my father died in 1941, I went to work for the Northwest Railroad, traveled through Virginia and Ohio. In the morning, you’d see for miles upon miles telephone wires glistening with spider webs. And the people were unbelievable! Living in pre–Civil War lives! But then I got into a fight with a supervisor and came home to New York. And everyone was in the service.

Why the Coast Guard?

My stepfather was a commercial fisherman, so we grew up around boats. He’d been in the reserves for years, so they made him head of this boat pool at Ellis Island.

Enest, Knox, Morris Martin (WKM's sons)We did boot training at Manhattan Beach, marching, gas masks, everything. Then we put in for a sub chaser and were sent to Mystic, Conn., to one of the most beautiful ships in the world: the 83-500. It was dark like a submarine, would submerge and turn itself upside down, depth charges underneath and rockets on the bow. We did this “bombing run” practice in Florida. They said there were German submarines in South America, but fortunately we never met one.

Normandy—it was an armada, you said.

We’re crossing the Atlantic and as far as you could see: cruisers, battleships, every kind of craft. The water was just full of ships. And the sky was blackened by planes going over, wave after wave after wave.

The Germans had a fantastic machine gun, and guys were dying everywhere all over the place—the water was littered with bodies. The invasion was threatened by a storm, so they made a harbor by sinking ships—a breakwater, 40-some-odd liberty ships. None of us slept for two nights; we were frazzled and hysterical and crazy. Then came that morning on the beachhead, lit up like the Fourth of July. There was this feeling, of being one organism with one goal, to get up on that coast and crush this thing: tyranny.

I do have to say, one of the greatest things was the atom bomb on Hiroshima. They had this little island—I saw it—where the Japanese fought to the last man. They would have done it; millions would have died. And before the bomb was dropped, the Russians were coming from the North, ready to invade. You would have had a Berlin wall of Tokyo.

You were discovered as an artist in a veterans’ hospital!

The first day when I came back, my mother greeted me—the tears. She was happy to see me but then said, “Your brother Morris, he’s gone. He was killed flying over Japanese waters.” How could this smart, great guy be gone? It wasn’t that I was divorced from reality, but the meaning of things changed, and I began to draw again. A guy came by the hospital on a project to work with “wounded veterans.” His name was Victor Kandel. I showed him what I was doing, and he said, “Hey, you’re a real artist. I would advise you to take private lessons.” So, I went to the Art Students League on the GI Bill.

In those days, everyone there was a Communist. It was my opinion that we were next going to fight the Russians. My uncle was in military intelligence: I knew what Stalin had done—how many mass graves. They would ask me, “Knox, why don’t you join the Party?” I said, “Ask me again, and I’ll see you in a rifle sight.”

Your mural, the one you’re still fighting to get made, was started as a statement about the Vietnam War.

Here’s what happened. The war starts; we’re after the Commies. It was great! Hit the Communists! Then, all of a sudden, on Sunday afternoon, what do you get on the TV? The war. It’s not an abstraction. A girl, a civilian, running from napalm. One guy, another civilian, sitting at a table, a soldier shoots him in the head. We all burst into tears. That’s why there was protest at all.

The young Knox Martin at the Art Students League

After my so-called success with the 19th Street piece [“Venus”] in 1972, I did the first maquette for this [current] mural. I tried to get it done everywhere. I figured I’d done the other one, Geraldo Rivera on the scaffold, and it would be a slam dunk! But—nothing.

You thought you had it this time, after Community Board 2 said yes and Cape Advisers [the developer of Jean Nouvel’s project] agreed to pay for it.

Two years of work, hundreds of people involved, and this one person—Michelle Cohen [of Art in the Schools] said, “This can’t be built now, or in the future.” She said, “It is not the content, not your credits.” What is it, then? Silence.

When I first talked to her, the first words out of her mouth were: “We have no funds.” I came up with the funds, and she said, the building can’t be touched for four years. I said, “The contractors working on the school say now’s the time to do it, not when the park is finished.” She said, “It’s dangerous for students.” I said that it’s on the back wall, away from the students. She said, “You can’t hang from the scaffolding; it’s too dangerous.” I said, “I’ll get a very slim cherry-picker, not me the fat guy.” She said, “Not on DOE property!” I don’t know her real objections, but it’s not over.

Any last words? Overall connections between the artist and the veteran?

After 9/11, maybe we’ll see the world waking up from 5,000 years of religious wars.

This is the infancy of Planet Earth. You don’t join a group, an army. Just be kind, look around you, and you straighten yourself out! You become a light unto yourself.

Look below for the rest of Knox’ D-Day story.

yet another mash note to Dexter Filkins

I’ve been impressed with the work of Dexter Filkins since long before I started on my own zig-zag path to this book. When I made the Iraq war the theme of a writing class I was teaching at La Guardia Community College in 2004, I found Filkins’ reporting from Iraq essential reading, and even assigned one of his Fallujah stories as basis for discussion. (Thanks to your reporting from Fallujah, sir, I still dream about steel rain.) I actually did write such a mash note when Filkins won his fellowship from the Nieman Center for Narrative Journalism, where he wrote the hard-to-forget The Forever War.

So it was as much for Filkins’ prose as his subject’s that I went to his piece this week in the New York Times Book Review. And Filkins’ lede reminded me why:

War is too weird a thing to make sense of when it’s actually happening. It’s not just the combat, which by its nature is unintelligible. Armed conflict so fundamentally alters the environment it takes hold of that no aspect of life escapes undistorted: not love, not friendship, not sleep, not trust, not conversation. In war, even boredom is strange.

And memory is surreal, as many vets have told us for years. Filkins is a poet at heart, as are many of the warrior writers he mentions in this review — including Phil Klay, whose short-story collection Redeployment is already winning awards.

Unknown-1“In Klay’s hands,” Filkins writes, “Iraq comes across not merely as a theater of war but as a laboratory for the human condition in extremis. ‘Redeployment’ is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. It’s the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls.”

George Packer, another inspiring journalist, also checked in with his thoughts on  Klay and many vet-scribes. His lede draws from the ones who sang World War I and got us all to do the same: “‘Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected,’ Paul Fussell wrote in “The Great War and Modern Memory,” his classic study of the English literature of the First World War. ‘But the Great War was more ironic than any before or since.’ The ancient verities of honor and glory were still standing in 1914 when England’s soldier-poets marched off to fight in France. Those young men became modern through the experience of trench warfare, if not in the forms they used to describe it. […]Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, Isaac Rosenberg, and Wilfred Owen—who all fought in the trenches and, in the last two cases, died there—remained tied to the conventions of the nineteenth century while trying to convey the unprecedented horror of industrial warfare, a condition of existence so murderous and absurd that a romantic or heroic attitude became impossible.” He calls Klay’s book “the best literary work thus far written by a veteran of America’s recent wars,” a high bar considering how many voices are being heard.

 

That should be enough to get you to pick up the book, and maybe write its former-Marine author a mash note of your own. I might too. For now, I’d love to also thank Packer and Filkins, each ten times the journo I’ll ever and translators of hard truths. For the Virgil-lamp, and the inspiration.

Carri Leigh Goodwin, United States Marine Corps

chrislombardi:

See also this NBC News piece on the issue, and the incredible work now being done by survivors.

Originally posted on My Duty to Speak:

by Melissa Obrien as said by Carri’s father; Gary Noling

Carri Leigh Goodwin, USMC

August of 2007 at the age of 18 Carri Leigh Goodwin of Ohio enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to make her father, Gary Noling, a former Marine proud. During her time in the Marine Corps Carri reported a rape. Instead of being supported and having her allegations being taken seriously she felt that the Marine Corps did not do enough to help her. Similar to what many survivors reported, the blame of the rape was put on the survivor instead of the perpetrator. She was bullied by her command for reporting a rape and was eventually forced out of the Marine Corps for reasons of Personality Disorder. According to an external investigation the alleged rapist was accused of another rape in 2006 at Camp Pendleton but was able to continue serving. The alleged rapist…

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From prison, Chelsea Manning speaks out

I don’t know about you, but I found this as surprising as it is heartening.

In accepting the Sam Adams Integrity Award from a task force of intelligence experts, Chelsea Manning issues what feels like her first political statement — a comment on the White House’s refusal to provide information about on the drone war.

In her statement, Manning quotes a judge who recently ruled that the administration had no obligation to do so:”The judge also wrote candidly about her frustration with her sense that the request  ‘implicate[d] serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States,’and that the Presidential ‘Administration ha[d] engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of fAmerican] citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways.’ In other words, it wasn’t that she didn’t think that the public didn’t have a right to know-it was that she didn’t feel that she had the “legal” authority to compel disclosure.”

manning-480x299Given the MONTHS of haggling over classification in Manning’s own trial, Manning then speaks with authority as she adds: “This case, like too many others, presents a critical problem that can also be seen in several recent cases, including my court-martial. For instance, I was accused by the Executive branch, and particularly the Department of Defense, of aiding the enemy-a treasonable offense covered under Article lll of the Constitution. Granted, I received due process. I received charges, was arraigned before a military judge for trial, and eventually acquitted. But, the al-Aulaqi case raises a fundamental question: did the American government, and particularly the same President and Department, have the power to unilaterally determine my guilt of such an offense, and execute me at the will of the pilot of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle?

I’m intrigued beyond measure that her lawyer (still fighting for clemency) approved this statement, and curious as to how she sees her role evolving as a public dissenter. Of course, the award itself gives her hints, given the honor roll of its recent recipients

The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance, former US Army Sgt; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence; Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks: Thomas Drake, of NSA; Jesselyn Radack, formerly of Dept. of Justice and now National Security Director of Government Accountability Project; Thomas Fingar, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Director, National Intelligence Council, and Edward Snowden, former contractor for the National Security Agency.

Speaking of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower congratulated Manning on the award this week, noting Manning’s “extraordinary act” and that Manning’s bravery (and his treatment) helped forge his own blockbuster revelations.

I’d love to see a conference convened where they share their perspectives, and add to its roster so many of my book’s figures — from Camilo Mejia to Jeff Sharlet (editor of VIETNAM GI though represented by his brilliant nephew) to Ray McGovern, who I met during Manning’s trial and provided the link to the speech. I’d be honored just to witness it.

in defense of channeling voices

I’ve long since added Jill Lepore to my list of people younger than I who fruitlessly I want to be when  grow up.  (Others include legal star Kimberle Crenshaw and my J-school classmate Jina Moore.) So it made sense when I learned, preparing to write this, that she’s one of ours – a ROTC dropout like Bayard Rustin, a 1980s Reagan-resister like Jeff Sharlet, a Warrior Writer.  She only went to college, she told an interviewer in 2005, because “I won an ROTC scholarship:

I really liked ROTC, actually, except I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the military. Loved boot camp; hated SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative. So, freshman year, there I was, in ROTC, playing sports, failing all my classes, when I got a letter in the mail. Or, well, my mother got it, and she forwarded it to me. It was from me.

In high school, I had an English teacher who was that once-in-a-lifetime teacher who shapes everything that ever happens to you. He had given us an assignment to write a letter to ourselves five years in the future, or four years into the future, whatever it was. And he was not going to read it. We had to give him money for stamps, adjusted, I thought somewhat suspiciously, for inflation. I mean, good for him, but he charged us like fifty cents. Anyway, we addressed the letters to our parents’ houses. I had completely forgotten about that letter because—did I mention?—I have a terrible memory.

Turns out, it was a very scary letter. It said, more or less, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and it went on like that, scolding, berating: ‘If you’re not actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing, quit everything and figure out your life for God’s sake. Get on with it!’ Apparently, I was a very difficult fourteen-year-old, but not altogether lacking in foresight. It was as if I had known that I would still be the jock who was reading in the dark. So I quit. I quit ROTC. I quit sports. I had been a math major; I switched to English.

This didn’t make me ‘become a historian.’ But later, when I thought about what I did want to do, I remembered that letter, that time capsule, and I wondered what it would be like to read old letters all day, other people’s letters, to listen to the past, and I knew I wanted to do that.

Like many, I discovered Lepore through her brilliant historical-context pieces for The New Yorkerone of which led me to her lovely Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.  On my way there, I did note that she named herself a fellow member of the I’m-Only-Happy-When-it-Rains Club, or what my friend Joshua Phillips calls “The House of Slytherin.” She describes why she took so long to be truly interested in Ben Franklin’s semi-literate sister:  at Harvard in the late 1980s, “I was sick of attics, sick of blighted girlhood….I wanted to study war. I wanted to investigate atrocity. I wanted to write about politics.” So her first books were about documenting the atrocity-born “New World,” about 18-century New York City set afire by abolitionism and untrammeled commerce. She’d already read all the work of William Apess, the main figure of my second chapter , and in 2005 published a book answering in depth my questions about Apess’ final work, “In Defense of King Philip.”

 "Philip, King of Mount Hope, from the Church's The Entertaining History of King Philip's War," line engraving, colored by hand, by the American engraver and silversmith Paul Revere. 17.3 cm x 10.7 cm (6 13/16 in. x 4 3/16 in.) Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, Yale University Art Gallery. Courtesy of Yale University, New Haven. Conn.

“Philip, King of Mount Hope, from the Church’s The Entertaining History of King Philip’s War,” line engraving, colored by hand, by the American engraver and silversmith Paul Revere. 17.3 cm x 10.7 cm (6 13/16 in. x 4 3/16 in.) Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, Yale University Art Gallery. Courtesy of Yale University, New Haven. Conn.

In 1836, Apess was writing about Metacom, the Wampanoug warrior who led perhaps the last serious effort by those indigenous to “New England” against the colonists there in the 1670s. His essay is one of thousands of documents Lepore illuminates in The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity,  Lepore’s exploration of both the facts behind those early wars and the way ‘Philip”s defeat has been memorialized by waves of writers after. Including, as we learn from the image at left, Paul Revere, who 100 years after Philip’s defeat took up his image a s a herald of resistance to the British. Lepore does so with her signature clarity,  giving generous voice to Philip’s numerous chroniclers, including Revere, Apess, and the thoroughly unpleasant Increase Mather, who saw Indians as savages from hell and the war against  them holy. More important, she lifts beautifully the scraps and fragments that help us understand a little of that earlier world, strewing details that startle: how long Philip’s severed head loomed over Kennett Square, or how many natives of Massachusetts and Connecticut were sold by the Puritans into slavery in the Caribbean. It all goes down like an insomniac bedtime story, with endnotes nearly as mesmerizing as the text. I actually read The Name of War a few months after the equally absorbing Jane Franklin book, in which those scraps and fragments are of seemingly humbler stuff — but the second book is as much about power, memory,identity as the other. And as much about violence, if you count the sort of semi-voluntary servitude that as 13 successive pregnancies and the multiple child deaths that followed. The difference, in some ways, is that Jane Franklin did write her own story, in a language we can read and greatly helped by a writer who persuades us that her story is no less a biography of America.

Veterans Day musings on moral injury

Note: I know it’s been awhile since I posted here: reasons too boring. But it made sense to share today’s Veterans Day op-ed — which focuses on a theme that ties together s0 much of why I wanted to write this book in the first place.

Air Force analyst Heather Lea Linebaugh never deployed, but she still saw combat, as a participant in the newest layer called “drone warfare.”  “I have nightmares to this day of women I have seen killed, children I have seen lost in vain, fathers who will never return to their families, and soldiers who will never say goodbye to their families,” Linebaugh wrote this past June, not long after I saw her speak at Fort Meade, Maryland. I contacted her almost immediately thereafter; she was voicing an ache I’d rarely heard articulated so well in years of working with and writing about soldiers and vets.

I knew, therefore, that Linebaugh would be my first Veterans Day voice this year.

Rita-BrockClose by would  be that of Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock (left), described in a New York Times  profile as “tending the spiritual wounds of warriors, seeking theological answers to the condition among veterans called ‘moral injury.’”

Daughter of a World War II veteran and Vietnam War  medic, Brock helped create the Soul Repair Center to go beyond the clinical in approaching these questions. Now based at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, the Center has attracted Iraq vets like Michael Yandell, 28, who worked on a bomb disposal team is now a seminarian at Brock’s school, telling the Times “It’s not that you lose your ability to tell right from wrong, but things don’t seem so clear anymore. For me, it’s whether or not what I did, did any good.”  Yandell, like Linebaugh, is among the new generation refusing to call combat trauma a mental illness.

Moral injury, writes former Army surgeon general Elspeth Ritchie, is  “an important concept to help understand the experiences of our service members.” The  term was first coined by psychiatrist and MacArthur Award-winning “genius” Jonathan Shay, in his iconic Odysseus in America:  “Betrayal of ‘what’s right’ in a high stakes situation by someone who holds power.” Shay knew from his decades of work with Vietnam vets that “the consequences for those still on active duty range from a loss of motivation and enjoyment, resulting in attrition from the service at the next available moment, to passive obstructionism, goldbricking, and petty theft, to outright desertion . . . sabotage, fragging, or treason. In a war, the consequences are catastrophic.”  And afterward, he wrote two years ago in Daedalus, that betrayal puts land mines in a soldier’s heart: “The body codes moral injury as physical attack and reacts with the same massive mobilization” in response.

Amid the current epidemic of suicides among veterans (at last count, 22 per day), the Veterans Administration has started to notice the injury. The VA’s Shira Maguen  distinguished it from the more-familiar-sounding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: “There is no threshold for establishing the presence of moral injury,” she wrote. “Rather, at a given point in time, a Veteran may have none, or have mild to extreme manifestations. Furthermore, transgression is not necessary for a PTSD diagnosis nor does PTSD sufficiently capture moral injury, or the shame, guilt, and self-handicapping behaviors that often accompany moral injury.”  Those words and Shay’s definitions of the term even made it into this terrific NPR graphic essay, and vets are being able to raise these issues with people around them.

Most essentially,the new generation  challenges us to look at our own moral injury in these wars. “Moral injuries are not about benefits or blame. They’re not about treatment or medications. They’re not about disability. They are about our society and our moral values,” writes Tyler Boudreau, author of Packing Inferno: the Unmaking of a Marine in the Massachusetts Review. “A moral injury is not inherently the same thing as a war crime, though clearly the two ideas overlap. But when we talk about war crimes, we seek justice; when we talk about moral injuries, we seek a deeper understanding of our humanity.Like Heather Linebaugh, Boudreau is less interested in his own trauma than in its implications in our war-besotted nation.

Other new vets are making common cause with veterans overseas, reaching out to Combatants for Peace in Israel, which works to end the occupation of the West Bank along with  Breaking the Silence, which has posted nearly 1,000 testimonials   on what they saw when serving there. All of these newer groups emphasize that it’s not about the vets own personal trauma, at least not exclusively. Avner Gvaryahu from Breaking the Silence, in a recent interview, used the Hebrew phrase yorim u’vochim, “shooting and crying,” to describe the limits of such testimonials for enacting change. “It’s easy to find people having regrets – saying ‘they forced us to be evil.’ The vast majority of soldiers will admit that,” he said. “We are aware of the fact that many more testifiers suffered from moral injuries,” he added, “but we’re also aware of the fact that we are not victims but rather the victimizers.”

Thus, Gvaryahu’s Breaking the Silence “has a political goal: to create a constituency in Israel for ending  the occupation of the West Bank.  Tyler Boudreau founded founded the Iraq Veterans’ Refugee Aid Association (IVRAA), and in 2010  testified along with hundreds of other young vets at the Truth Commission on Conscience and War. And  last month, Heather Linebaugh co-founded Front Lines International, an international media-based initiative which presents equally stories from both sides of the “front line.”

These days, Linebaugh is training to be a massage therapist, doing yoga and taking care of herself — which for her includes her work with Front Lines International. As she told Facebook in August, “[After]  finishing my shifts at my normal job, I’m heading straight home to do work for my cause and [my] research for my mission to educate on peace and ending cultural misunderstanding and needless violence due to the War and Violence paradigms that exist in our time. This, at times, can be exhausting, but I am more alive, enlightened and in love with the world than ever before in my life.  I will never stop.”