I Ain’t Marching Anymore

It get misty around here, but welcome.

All rights to the estate of Phil Ochs, and the noble man who posted this Bitter End film on his Youtube channel.

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A Story and a Book

A piece I’m hoping to include in the summer issue of Democratic Left, whose working theme is “Building a Future Without the Gangsters of Capitalism.”

The War Resisters League Blog

by Matt Meyer

[This article was originally published on ‘New Clear Vision on February 15th, 2012.]

On the Nature of Violence and Nonviolence

Amidst a bombardment of Black Bloc commentary, questions about the militarized nature of tear-gas toting police, and the ever-frustrating all-too-abstract dialogues about the meanings of nonviolence, violence, strategy, tactics, and principles, comes a simple story (and a complicated book) straight out of Occu-politics. First, though, some defining of terms:

Nonviolence (a term some have called ‘a word seeking to describe something by saying what it is not’) is used in as wide a variety of ways as there are flavors of ice cream. For some, it is strategic and revolutionary, for others principled and philosophical; for some it is a way of life and for others a mere tactic. For most practitioners, it is an often-tantalizing combination of the above. Our story will…

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Are lefty milpods the next whistleblowers, or “fortresses on a hill?”

Newsies._LOC_nclc.03503(Photo, via Library of Congress; Some is of the “newsies,” the children peddling newspapers around city streets, when people still paid some money for words on paper.)

Maybe both.

As I write this I’m listening to Eyes Left, which explicitly IDs as a “Socialist Military Podcast.” Last night, I was catching up with Lions Led by Donkeys, claimed on Twitter as “the only podcast for laughing at the failures of military history. Hosted by  and  produced by  Speaking of Twitter, I’m explicitly chatting there with Fortress on a Hill, in response to the question I asked in the last post. I’m working to follow their advice, and focus on the most powerful experiences relayed by soldier-dissenters. But right now, I want to finish writing about this particular circle of e-griots, and why it’s hard to pull away.

  • Fortress on a Hill first caught my attention with their interview with Joe Kassabian, which was more informative than most I’d heard elsewhere. But what elevated them for me was this one, which first introduced me to Rosa del Duca:  The hard path of resistance” panel included some who reminded me of my first Hotline clients back in the day, young (mostly) men who had diverse ways of deciding that they needed AR 600-43 of the Universal Code of Military Justice. The episode also highlighted an ironic truth, re 9/11/01: for one of the panelists it was “the day my dad enlisted,” a date that was only an echo when he did. (Of course, being me, I wanted to reach out to every single one, including the one whose case is still waiting for approval before he can be released; “Can’t I find a place for JJ Rodriguez somewhere in the book?” but that way lies madness. )
  • Breaking Cadence, del Duca’s pod (on hold for awhile), is the one most specifically focused on CO stuff, and featured folks I remember from back in the day, like Vietnam veteran Gregory Ross or current GI Rights coordinator Siri Margerin. Her chat with attorney Steve Collier, on habeas corpus claims, brought back memories of working for him, while highlighting the too-often-forgotten story of Stephen Eagle Funk.
  • Also on the list of CO podcasters is the singular Logan Isaac, whose podcasts range from Red Letter Christians to Ponder XChange, and whose tagline is “Creating a Martial Hermeneutic.” I’ll write more about Isaac later, since podcasting’s only a fraction of what he’s doing now; but Ponder Xchange is good for those who need a basic education of what GI Rights are all about.
  • Joe Kassabian’s pod, named for the troops misled into fighting World War I, would be foe the gonzo-historian in me even if I didn’t know and admire him otherwise. I was fascinated by his War of 1812  series, though it intercepts only partly with my book’s sections on those same years. But as a J-school graduate, I was blown away by its explication of the 2014 Mahmudiyah murders, whose understanding shamed that of most civilian journos. I was therefore completely unsurprised by how Joe scooped entirely the corrupt operators in the hyper-lethal Yemen War, before the usually-reliable lefty media even thought to look there.
  • Which leads me to the tremendously addictive Hell of a Way to Die, which today featured Nate Bethea’s story of how he left the military just soon enough to keep his G.I. Bill and snagged an interview with the oft-mentioned-here Joe Haldeman. But it crosses over from interesting to essential listening when stuff like military’s white supremacy problem surfaces, as in last month’s “Bad News: The Coast Guard is Now Fash, Too.” I’ve listened to that episode three times, so I don’t forget everything noticed here.
  • But if you want to hear the most antifa stuff in a veteran-run podcast, Eyes Left is probably your first stop. Spencer Rapone, who made national headlines last year as the “Commie Cadet,” joins Mike Prysner, who many of us met at Winter Soldier 2008. It’s the perfect spot to explore the legacy of Vietnam-era OGG Andy Stapp,  and deconstruct the actually-fascist Trump border deployment. Prysner’s organization March Forward is focused on helping active-duty folk resist, so they were my first stop when the Venezuela coup started.

All of the above are worth your time, or at least mine. If, like me, you’re more the bookish sort, you might find yourself filling your shelf or Kindle with titles like Breaking Cadence, Kassabian’s Hooligans of Kandahar, Danny Sjursen’s Ghost Riders of Baghdad, or Matt Gallagher’s Kaboom after hearing some of these. Either way, these newsies are carrying gold, and deserve all the respect you have.

 

 

Cadences, voices, and the book’s final chapter

podcast movementThis week, I received in the mail Rosa del Duca’s book Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War. My interest in Rosa’s story is kind of a no-brainer; I’ve been thinking of people like her even before I joined the staff of the Committee for Conscientious Objectors (link is to an archive of the org’s website during my last spring there, before it dissolved after 50+ years and handed its mission to the Center on Conscience and War). The photo on Del Duca’s website even reminds me of myself in those years: Bay Area tan-ish, with gym-toned arms and a wry smile (though I was never as pretty as she). I told the folks at Ooligan Press that I wanted to review it and talk to her, and I will; but right now I need to talk about how I found her, and how this generation of Forever War vets confounds my efforts to end this book.

I discovered del Duca first through her podcast, whose subtitle is Insights from a Modern-Day Conscientious  Objector — to distinguish her, perhaps, from Vietnam-era civilian COs or World War II figures like Desmond Doss (whose biopic Hacksaw Ridge has acquainted many with the whole concept of a military CO). Hers is among a circle of many that has served as my backdrop in recent days.

I’m usually surrounded by the voices of anti-war vets, as the book slouches toward the Bethlehem of publication. But these voices are all in a medium whose power has taken time to dawn on me (a form of radio invented by the iPod).My first podcasts were the usual liberal blather from Slate and the New Yorker, as well as my guilty pleasure West Wing Weekly. My journo friends all got retrained in how to podcast, and certainly the democratic-socialist world where I volunteer is brimming with pods. Which is how, of course,  I tumbled down this rabbit hole: I discovered the DSA Veterans Working Group, which includes some of the most cogent voices from this generation of vets.

@DSAVeterans led me to Joe Kassabian, first to his addictive and powerful memoir The Hooligans of Kandahar; I had to interview Joe then, and he told me about the “anti-war lefty veteran” network of podcasts. Not just Kassabian’s own Lions Led by Donkeys podcast, but the reliably hilarious A Hell of a Way to Die, from Nate Bethea and Francis Horton, or Fortress on a Hill, hosted by Iraq vets Chris Henriksen and Daniel Sjursen. Fortress is where I first heard of Del Duca and learned about her podcast, whose subtitle gives the game away: “Insights from a Modern-Day Conscientious Objector.”

In an upcoming post, I’ll write about each of these, and a few others they’ve turned me on to, such as  Eyes Left, hosted by already-celebrities Spencer Rapone and Mike Prysner. I’ll review/recommend episodes that I find particularly strong, and muse about pods’ connection to organizing and activism. But right this second, I’m wondering whether all these pods are just distracting me from writing that still needs to be done. Or are these forever-war vets helping me think more clearly about my final chapter?

This blog’s Drafts folder is littered with beginnings with titles like “The new generation os soldier-dissenters, wherein I riffed between Reality Winner and

the other drone veterans, who broke their silence to tell truth about the drone program – and who are still traumatized by it. As warfare has changed, the routes for dissent against it change to, some measured in bits and bytes.

Then there’s Will Griffin, who I met at a No Foreign Bases conference and whose Peace Report  has long been an essential source of news about that movement. Will moved to my town last year and is burning up the links offered for dissenting veterans here, including Warrior Writers.

Or the one called “The Forever War’s forever chapter,” about what I’m still doing while we get the rest of the book flat:

Working backwards, from this year to 2001, starts to feel as challenging as the dread Vietnam chapter.

Reality Winner, whose leaks weren’t about war — but who, like Snowden, was deeply affected by watching drone strikes in near-real time.  Will Griffin, the military brat who served in both Iraq and Afpak but flipped 200 degrees after he went to Okinawa for VFP; Griffin also was part of the short-lived Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, and now runs a video-journalism outfit called the Peace Report. Matt Hoh and Rory Fanning, Afghanistan veterans who came out the other side to pursue truth. Chelsea Manning, who contains multitudes (and is now running for Senate.) Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh.

Those post-2008 figures don’t mean I’ve forgotten the earlier wave: Garret Reppenhagen, Stephen Funk, Aidan Delgado, Camilo Mejia, Jon Hutto, Dan Choi, Jennifer Hogg. All of whom I need to touch base with before including them now.

I swore to start every day freewriting for the book, but every sentence instead comes out like a query letter or status report.

 

I wrote those words nearly a year ago, and they’re still true. More so now, with Will’s video blog competing with those podcasts in my ears. And I’m not even talking about the books they’re all publishing, of which del Duca’s is only one. All still teaching me about their wars, and the many across the globe as I write this.

So what war does the chapter cover, anyway?

When I go back to my first “final draft” (the one first submitted to UC Press). I see a final chapter called “The New Winter Soldiers,’ which featured vets featured frequently here, people I’ve now known for over a decade. Though it started with words from elder statesman Philip Berrigan, and with the 2001 day that prompted so many to enlist:

On September 11, I watched appalled as the second tower of the World Trade Center came down. The guards called me out, took me to the lieutenant’s office, shackled and handcuffed me, and took me to solitary. I inquired several times as to why. One guard grunted, ‘Security!’ During twelve days in segregation, no further daylight was provided. One lieutenant came to announce, ‘No phone, no visitors!’ And no stamps. I was locked down ten days before mailing out letters. The result? Limbo-incommunicado.[i] Berrigan told that story to The Progressive after his wife, Liz McAllister, finally learned what the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Elkton, Ohio, had done with him. Berrigan’s detention was not for his own safety but the prison’s: the 77-year-old cleric, veteran of both World War II and a career of serial civil-disobedience, was considered trouble.

Berrigan, fighting in prison the cancer that would soon kill him, was heartened by the demonstrations against what seemed a certain war in Iraq. “The American people are, more and more, making their voices heard against Bush and his warrior clones,” he wrote in the last letter he wrote before he died, six weeks before the massive February 2003 demonstrations against the war. The night before those demonstrations, Coffin echoed Berrigan at Riverside: “It is not a patriotic thing to send our brave men and women into an unjust war. That is not patriotic. If you ask if you are willing to die for your country, you must also ask if you are willing to kill for your country….War is a coward’s escape from the possibility of peace.”

These words from turbulent World War II veteran/priests could have been read as a repudiation of the newest generation of young soldiers, many of whom had joined or rejoined after the towers went down. But it was also an invitation, if one offered more explicitly by Howard Zinn, who knew from Vietnam and his old friend Dan Ellsberg how powerful those younger voices could be. And just as protestors were flooding the streets, one tall young Army sniper was walking into an alternative bookstore in Manitou Springs, Colorado and being told that before going to Iraq, he had to read Zinn’s flagship work A People’s History of the United States.

That sniper was, of course, Garett Reppenhagen, who I met when he was president of Iraq Veterans Against the War and who’s now a coordinator for the VetVoice Foundation. Garett, Stephen Funk and Aidan Delgado are among those I know I want to keep in the chapter, but I don’t really want the book’s narrative to end with the end of the Bush Administration.

This last revision process is reminding me of so many other threads that need to resonate, and for which I am so far unprepared. How can the chapter include mostly White voices, even if their movement is not as multi-racial as the U.S. military? Or am I answering my own question here?

But if this latest dance with the podcasters is teaching me anything, it’s that this generation doesn’t need me to tell their story. They’re telling it every day, in every form of media that exists. It’s my job to put it all in context, and make their part of our story sing.

 

 

The Necessity of Moral Resistance in the Face of Militarism

Thanks, Matthew Hoh. I’m still sorry I missed this event, but hope this spreads the word.

Matthew Hoh

This past weekend I spoke as part of the Poor People’s Campaign event: The Necessity of Moral Resistance in the Face of Militarism. Reverend William Barber was, of course, the main speaker, and if you are uncertain as to how war and militarism play a role in the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign or in the way war and militarism have always played an oppressive and devastating role in our society, then please listen to Reverend Barber’s sermon as he clearly and definitively explains those two things. My talk, on the effect of war on veterans, is here below, while Reverend Barber’s sermon and the comments from Phyllis Bennis are in the Youtube clip below. Wage Peace.

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Veteran Suicide is More From Guilt Than From PTSD

I’ve been looking for this video since March, when Matthew Hoh and so many others we know here spoke at Berlin’s Elevate Festival.They even Skyped in Dan Ellsberg. And I love their panel tag: “40 Years of Whistleblowing, Friom Pentagon to Panama Papers.”

Matthew Hoh

It’s been almost five months since I’ve written anything, and this post is not going to contain much of my writing, but rather sharing with you a note RootsAction sent out to its vast membership containing a clip of me in a talk I gave in London at the end of February:

It should be noted that traumatic brain injury, which in some studies has been found to be present in more than 20% of Afghan and Iraq veterans, and from which I suffer from, also has a very real and significant link to suicide in veterans.

The full video of the talk in London is found below. That talk, titled: “War, Journalism and Whistleblowers — 15 years after Katharine Gun’s Truth Telling on the Verge of the Iraq War”, included Katharine Gun, Thomas Drake, Jesselyn Radack, Silkie Carlo, Norman Solomon and Duncan Campbell, all of whom are really incredible and brave…

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Monday morning Winner whispers: a looooong road to #Justice4Reality?

I’ve spent the week waiting for a ruling on the Miranda issue raised in that February hearing, but Reality Winner’s counsel has not been. On Good Friday, the same day all counsel met for a status conference call, the defense gave notice that they intend to subpoena basically everyone with jurisdiction over U.S. cybersecurity or elections.

I’m trying to turn this news, via Politico, into an assortment of tea leaves re the Miranda issue. But it does at least seem that an avalanche of discovery cases may be a gold mine for investigative  reporters looking into Russiagate and the 2016 election. And for those of us looking at the blurred lines between military and civilian justice.

Talk about a wake-up call.

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My letter to Reality

IMG_20180309_092047.jpgIt appears that I won’t get that phone interview with the main character in my upcoming story. In my effort to do so, I sent the following letter, with a SASE, to the place where she’s being detained. Posting it below, and hoping she still appreciated hearing from me.

Reality Winner, 3342,

Lincoln County Jail

P.O. Box 970, Lincolnton, GA  3081

Dear Ms. Winner,

I’m sending this on International Women’s Day, which feels appropriate: you’re a woman of great courage, as well as strength and energy.

You don’t know me yet, but I was one of those wearing carnations at your hearing last week. I’m grateful that your family welcomed me to “Stand With Reality,” and encouraged me to write to you. They know that I’ve spent the past 10 years writing a book about veterans, some as young as you. A few have had experiences similar to yours, too — and cheered me on as I headed to Georgia for last week’s hearing. I’m hoping that you’ll write back to me, and eventually consider calling me collect so you don’t have to write responses to my questions,

Getting ready to write this, I reread your Twitter feed, to get a sense of your voice. Much of what you RTed felt like it could have been mine, especially the stuff about Standing Rock. And your election night post was pure poetry.

And your mom knows I really felt it when I learned your bio-dad died six months before The Troubles. My wife’s dad died last spring, and she’s only now having times when she doesn’t grieve him every day. (The sweetest guy in the world, a Coast Guard vet and retired firefighter, he also died of COPD, so I even know a little of how those final weeks felt.)

I’d love to hear more about  Mr. Winner. Some of the questions that popped in my mind  How did he react when you joined the Air Force? Did you share thoughts about the 2016 election, while it was going on?  Was it his COPD that trapped him in a wheelchair? Were you able to be there when he died?

I’m curious about a lot more, of course — from how it felt to go from Texas to Monterey to Fort Meade– Did you miss the South, is that why you chose Augusta when you were discharged?– to how a brilliant desk-jockey like you stayed a jock, from playing soccer school to Crossfit and yoga. Did you take up Crossfit at DLI or at Fort Meade? And why CF AND yoga? To me they seem like opposite approaches to fitness. Why do both?

If I were a potential student (and a lot younger ;-), how would you explain the combination? Did you need both to manage the stress of your AF missions? I’ve read and thought a lot about movement, especially dance,  as a way to know who we are. Is that why you like to teach it?

I’m sorry if that’s too many questions; I know answering them on paper likely feels like work.  I’d be deeply honored to hear from you. I hope the weather down in Augusta has gotten less swampy, though even that sounds awesome right now from my snowy Philadelphia street.

 

Sincerely,

Chris Lombardi

Chris L