memorial day, Tomas Young and what we owe

I’ve =been rightly scolded for treating Memorial Day a bit too much like Veterans Day. My two commentaries this week are about Tomas Young, shot by a sniper in 2004, who took 10 years to die and  before then, emerged as an opponent of the Iraq war. (If you haven’t seen Body of War, you might want to make it your Memorial Day viewing.)

Tomorrow’s NewsworksWHYY piece will focus on the new book Tomas Young’s War — whose author, Mark Wilkerson, came to Philadelphia.The book chronicles Young’s final years, after an embolism stole the activist’s voice and ultimately his life. (Anoxic brain injury, for those in the know.) I read it in a day, cried  a lot.

Then, with Mark’s help,  I interviewed Young’s mother for my old shop Women’s Voices for Change, and reflected on those who, like her, have lost people to war. She works at Target, where her coworkers have spent the week chirping “Happy Memorial Day!”

More later, and I’ll add live links as they post. As a civilian, I’m not in a position to scold anyone for what they do this weekend. For me, it’s time to give respect to the dead, even as we question why.

 

so many ways to try to save Private Manning

1 The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning by Inis Nua Theatre Company (1)I was excited that the Welsh play THE RADICALISATION OF BRADLEY MANNING was coming to town — especially after I learned that it had its premiere at the Clearing Barrel, the GI coffeehouse in Heidelberg. Melding themes of gender identity, the war in Iraq, and Welsh radicalism felt and is a worthy task.

And the performers last night at Philaadelphia’s Inis Nua Theatre, who traded off the role of “Bradley” among them as they shifted eras and roles, were terrific – engaging, comic and tragic by turns. In the photo above,Bradley Manning (Johnny Smith) downloads classified military intelligence while a fellow intelligence officer (David Glover) obliviously works behind him in Inis NuaTheatre Company’s American premiere of The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning by Tim Price. (Photos by Katie Reing)

Private Manning monitors the transfer of files she’s about to leak to Wikileaks -a few minutes before the entire cast shifts gears and dances to Lady Gaga:

Born This Way – LADY GAGA (Official Video) from Oguzhan Can on Vimeo.B

Bits of this video show up on the stage’s monitors that for much of the evening had the Collateral Murder video, as if Gaga could replace the latter: as if someone could find in its joy some healing, some knitting apart of torn selves and torn hearts.

And the entire cast, which up until now had mostly kept their limber bodies pressed into military poses, begins to dance. They surround Manning and help her shed her clothing, until FOB Hammer becomes the most delicious underground dance club imaginable.

I’ll write more lucidly about the play later, but these are the scenes that were still in my head this morning:

  • Manning lies tearfully in hir underwear while a procession of Marine prison guards circle the room, asking loudly whether Detainee was OK. The answer shifts repeatedly.
  • A Welsh middle school social-studies classroom turns metaphor for class warfare, with students rioting and tormenting one another by turns
  • The  basic-training exercise where recruits have to keep emptying their packs, and then race to put everything back together.

The scenes in those years  find most compelling were there, but less memorable onstage. I really wish I’d seen it with an Iraq vet – or with Stephen Funk, who danced to Gaga and Michael Jackson as he enacted a far more powerful version of the same story two years ago.

More later,  as I puzzle out what I actually think – as someone still striving tomake Manning’s story a coherent part of ours.

 

 

 

 

 

The sins we carry: Eric Fair’s CONSEQUENCE

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/472964974/473004679

consequencecoverI pre-ordered this book after seeing an op-ed by its author, and spent the past day and a half tearing through it. The name of his former employer, CACI,had long since been for me code for “detainee abuse,” and I had tried to write an article based on the company’s misdeeds when applying for a business-reporting fellowship for J-school (won by the far more deserving and-kick-ass Moira Herbst).  By then, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ 2004 lawsuit against CACI on behalf of detainees was in the news, and going through the now-familiar paces of wars over classified information and webs of culpability.

The New York Times calls CONSEQUENCE “profoundly unsettling.” I think I can safely say that or those of us for whom the words “Abu Ghraib,”CACI” and even “torture” have become drearily familiar, it’s also quietly mindblowing.

In prose that simultaneously recalls Michael Herr,  Charles Bukowski (the latter for the use of profanity) and Pilgrim’s Progress, Fair’s narrative makes you feel for this young Presbyterian who joins the Army to prepare for a career in law enforcement and ends up an employee of CACI, described by Fair as a mixture of Kafka and the Keystone Kops. But just as the reader is trying to absorb this new picture of CACI, Fair takes you to Abu Ghraib — first the muddy tents that shocked Aidan Delgado, then a moment in the “hard site” we all think we’ve seen.

There’s an aha! moment after CID tries to talk to everyone working in that site and Fair’Bs team realizes by elimination which soldier is about to blow the whistle: Joe Darby, who several months later “the Army will then place in protective custody” after SecDef Rumsfeld publicly thanks him for leaking those damaging Abu Ghraib photos.
I’ve been trying to embed Fair’s interview with Terry Gross above; if that doesn’t work you might want to click on the link and just listen. She gets him talking about the heart condition that almost killed him (for real), his faith journey and so much more.

I, of course, want to ask him different questions. I want to know if he’s ever spoken to a New York attorney named Aidan Delgado, who completed an entire conscientious-objector claim while working at another part of AG, and whether his pastor-wannabe self has touched base with the Brite Divinity School’s Soul Repair Center. He never uses the term “moral injury,” and I’d like to know why. I’d also encourage him to accept the help my friend Joshua Phillips has offered him, since we both see common agonies as described in Joshua’s book about soldiers who’ve tortured, None of Us Were Like This Before.  After reading the latter book, I did wonder about the inner lives of contractors like Fair, and am both glad and deeply sorry to have been so richly answered.

Would also LOVE to curate a discussion among Fair, Delgado and Phillips, in which my words would be the least important.

 

storytelling as dissent

youngblood-9781501105746_hrYesterday’s War Horse post only spotlit one small share of the vast number of veteran writers and artists, like the one pictured,  charting the forever war. They’re musicians, they’re poets holding incredible slams, they’re winning Pulitzers and National Book Awards.

The current bounty has me thinking about how the presence of such artists forms an arc throughout the history we’re charting — one that likely starts with Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Bierce, continues with e.e. cummings and Lewis Milestone and and busts out after World War II as Randall Jarrell, Joseph Heller, John Huston — until Vietnam givesi us Bill Erhart, Tim O’Brien and so many others (now on my cutting-room floor). If I include journalists and filmmakers to the mix, it becomes a cacophony.

Why the increase? And does the plentitude of stories just release tension, or begin the process of creating dissent as personnel know they’re not alone?

I don’t know if these questions are for trauma studies,military history or English class. But I do think they’re worth tracing. And maybe we can send today’s veteran stars a questionnaire, to find out if Bierce and Jarrell really do whisper in today’s texts.

privateperrypoe

the singer of the song

On the Phil Ochs topic, knew I had to plug this movie – didn’t realize I already had. You won’t regret seeing it.

I Ain't Marchin' Anymore

I’m in final revisions on the AMA book, so my focus here is shifting for the next five weeks or so; expect to see some musings on the book’s themes, and new stories getting inserted at the last minute. But I’m unlikely to be following the news quite so closely, and there will be silences.

In the meantime, seek out the movie above if you can. Between his traumatized World War II vet dad, his time at military school (see left),  and his proud history at GI coffeehouses, one can’t imagine someone better to provide this book with its title than Philip David Ochs.

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TheWarHorse.org is taking on the hardest questions

warhorse

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but this ambitious, mostly soldier-driven journalistic project is already going some unexpected places. (Full disclosure: I hope to write for them sometime on a freelance basis. I can take NO credit for the thorough, startling work they’ve already produced.) Talk about testing what new ways nonfiction storytelling can go.

And checking in there today, I was blown away by this piece, whose authors take on “the ambiguity of war” – from a front-line NCO’s split-second decisions, especially after “it’s your friend that yxploeou were just talking to that morning and you have to fight birds for the pieces of his body”- to  legal analysis of what’s behind the question, Did X constitute a war crime?

The “principle of distinction” is a foundation of humanitarian law that obligates all parties in conflict to distinguish between combatants and civilians, according to the Georgetown Law Review. But while it would greatly reduce civilian casualties if fighters adhered to that principle, but they don’t, which is why the IBC is so staggeringly high. What complicates that for fighters is that the Protocol of the Geneva Convention, which is intended to prevent non-combatant casualties, states that “Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities” constitutes a war crime.

Read the whole piece. I find myself wanting to send it to half the people I know, and 75% of the veterans. As our understanding of those complexities deepens, it makes questions of war and peace even more perplexing, I think.

There but for Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs - I Ain't Marching AnymoreNo wonder I was already depressed by the time I turned 14. On my 14th birthday, Phil Ochs had just hanged himself, an official end to what many of us tend to call “the Sixties.”

There’s no mention of it in the copious journals I was then keeping, with its dates marked as “Stardate,” Latin jokes, and other reports from 466 Lexington Avenue. (Alumni of my weird high school will remember that address).

There have already been some thoughtful pieces this week on Ochs’ legacy; keep a bookmark if you want to read one of mine. I’ll also make sure to link to those who’ve worked harder than I to keep Phil’s legacy alive, including the lovely biopic his brother made a few years back.

This accidentally just published on me, so I’ll take the hint and stop. Much more later.