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

when gender-dissent got serious

 barfieldportraitMy book has a quiet backbeat of gender-dissent, separate from but not irrelevant to its years of conscientious objectors, mutinies and warrior writers. From the beginning, we had women dressing as men to fight, from the Revolution to the Civil War; we had women codebreakers and nurses during World War I and II, and an increasing number of women explicitly recruited starting in 1960, including later acclaimed peace veteran Ellen Barfield (above).

Still, when women started to claim their own right to be there, it made some  noise no one expected — especially in the 1990s, after the Tailhook scandal exposed what so many women had been enduring all along. I’ve realized that much of this important work is too tangential to be described in-depth in Ain’t Marching … so below is some of what I learned, in case it’s of use.

After Tailhook, feminist scholars and others committed to women’s full participation in the military, began looking more deeply at the misogyny underneath the new, gender-integrated All-Volunteer Force was still in full bloom in numerous ways. Navy Ships and airplanes were still painted with naked ladies, and chants still called weak recruits “pussy.” Carol Burke, a former civilian professor at Annapolis, reported hearing multiple strains of the one below, to the tune of “Candy-Man”:

Who can take a bicycle

Then take off the seat

Set his girlfriend on it

Ride her down a bumpy street. . .

[Chorus]

Who can take some jumper cables

Clamp them to her tits

Jump-start your car

And electrocute the bitch

[Chorus]

Who can take an icepick

Ram it through her ear

Ride her like a Harley

As you fuck her fromr: the rear…./span>

While that chant was an extreme example, the devaluing of women was still a staple of much military culture and training, even as they were recruited in increasing numbers (by 1996, women would constitute 13 percent of personnel, from 5 percent of Marines to 16 percent of the Air Force). Some was signaled indirectly, in what is sometimes termed “gender harassment” of women with whom they were ordered to work: “sabotage, foot-dragging, feigning ignorance, constant scrutiny, gossip and rumors, and indirect threats. This harassment targets women but is not sexual: often it cannot be traced to its source,” ii exemplifying the term “hostile environment” even as it was being documented and defined in the legal language of sexual harassment.

The resentments triggering such an environment were paired with a basic-training system rather famously designed to overcome any World-War-II attacks of conscience, increasingly linking sexuality to violence. “Recruits were brutalized, frustrated, and cajoled to the point of high tension,” ex-Marine Wayne Eisenhart recounted years later. “Only on occasions of violent outbursts did the drill instructor cease his endless litany of You dirty faggot and Can’t you hack it, little girls.” iii Another Vietnam veteran told psychologist Mark Baker: “Carrying a gun was like a permanent hard-on. It was a pure sexual trip every time you got to pull the trigger.” Below are some of the sources I consulted looking into this: feel free to join the conversation.iv

i Carol Burke, Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture (Beacon Press, 2004).

ii Laura Miller, “Not Just Weapons of the Weak: Gender Harassment as a Form of Protest for Army Men.” Social Psychology Quarterly, March 1997, p. 33.

iii Helen Michalowski, “The Army Will Make a ‘Man’ Out of You.” In Pam McAllister, ed., Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence (New Society Press, 1982).

iv David Grossman, On Killing, op. cit.

Dear Mr. Snowden

I wrote this letter nearly a year ago, in the hope that Edward Snowden — unlikely to talk to a minor journo like me – would answer some questions to help me make my portrait of him as accurate as possible, (if not as three-dimensional as Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning one, or Oliver Stone’s will be). Posted now as part of that effort, and in the hope you might know some of the answers too.AintMarchincoverbyAlex

Dear Mr. Snowden,

I can only write this as a letter to you — as a writer to whom your story is important, both for what it’s done for our democracy AND as part of the story in a book I’ve been working on for far too long. At the bottom of this memo are some questions based on what I’ve already gleaned; if you could say anything in response to them, I’d be even more in your debt than I already am as a U.S. citizen.

About the book, and why I think you belong in it: I first signed a contract (with University of California Press) in 2007 for the book, entitled I Ain’t Marching Anymore. It’s a history of soldiers who dissent, whose honor roll starts with the War of 1812 and includes Dan Ellsberg, Chrlsea Manning, Bobby Seale and Bayard Rustin. I’ve long been intrigued by people who at one point or another in their lives was part of the U.S. military and went on to make real social change; that fascination started when I was a counselor on the G.I. Rights Hotline, where my job was to answer questions from young men and women who’d signed up to be part of something bigger by enlisting in the miitary.

By the time they talked to me they usuallly wanted out, for reasons ranging from conscience to medical issues to abuse, and taught me there wasn’t that much difference between me (an idealist writer-activist) and these folks who were equally earnest and needed help.

Ain’t Marchin began when, years later, I proposed to folks at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism that I write a book about the Hotline, and was instead charged with a history that includes the vets I worked with, John Kerry et al., and the newest generation of post-9/11 vets.(A sense of my overall approach is in this piece I did for the Ochberg Society for Trauma Journalism: http://www.ochbergsociety.org/soldierswhodissent/.)

The book has required hundreds of interviews, document research, and reporting on the post-9/11 scene. When you first met with Laura Poitras and the others, I was trekking back ans forth to Fort Meade, MD, as trial proceedings began in the trial of Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning. So many of these servicemembers and vets have often used language similar to yours in interviews, insisting that the country they signed up to serve live up to the values they learned doing so.

As instinctively supportive of your work as I was from the beginning, it took awhile for me to piece together,from press reports, that I could include you, since your career of service began with you brief time training for the Special Forces before you were injured and went to the CIA. I’m writing to ask if i can learn some more from you on that experience. and what parts of it remained with you as your own story moved forward

I know you don’t identify as a soldier, but I do think you’d find some common ground with the Iraq/Afghan vets I’ve been talking to for years — like those in this Al-Jazeera America op-ed http://america.aljazeera.com/opinis/2014/11/iraqveteransagainstwarisis.html. I know an interview is near-impossible, but it felt irresponsible for me not to TRY to touch base with you before I finished writing narrative that includes you.

In addition to those provided, you can see other clips on my portfolio site at http://chrislombardi.me; I can also give you references from Samuel Freedman at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (in whose Book Seminar the book was conceived) to editors at The Nation and my agent Sam Stoloff of Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

Thank you so much for reading this far. And for responding to the questions below, in as much detail or not as you care to. If you wanted to just talk your answers instead of writing them and could somehow get Ben or Jessamyn to send me the audio file, I swear I’d guard it with my life. I could also find a land line for you or someone (Ben?) to call into, if writing your responses just feels like too much work.

These questions are roughly in chronological order. I look forward to including Ed the soldier in my book to the fullest extent possible.

========================================================

Growing Up/Family

Your dad was a Coast Guard warrant officer; what was that like, growing up in a Coastie house? (My partner’s dad was also a CG warrant officer, much earlier).

  • Did he ever talk about it as a career path for you?

  • Did he ever tell you those CG Values of“honor, respect, devotion to duty?”

  • As your career has taken this maverick path, did he ever refer to his military background? How about when you were considering enlisting in 2004, or when you were in HI contemplating your most recent actions?

Recruitment and Training

  • Where exactly did you enlist? What were your ASVAB scores? How did they pitch Special Forces to you?

  • You were 20, and had been deeply impacted by the 9/11 attacks. You have said that “I still very strongly believed that the government wouldn’t lie to us, that our government had noble intent, and that the war in Iraq was going to be what they said it was, which was a limited, targeted effort to free the oppressed. I wanted to do my part.” Were you also deeply impressed with President Bush as commander-in-chief?

  • Did the recruiters mention specifically becoming a “ Special Forces Communications Sergeant,” so you could use your technical skills?

  • What are your initial memories of Fort Benning? How aware were you of areas outside your OSU – the reception battalion, the Warrior Transition Units, the School of the Americas?

  • How big were your drill sergeants?

  • Did they drill hard on those ‘Army Values’ – loyalty, duty, respect, personal courage, integrity, honor, selfless service? How seriously did you or they take them? Have you had occasion to think of them in the decade since? (Many of the young vets I know will rattle their “Values” off with a mixture of irony and not.)

  • Did you get to meet any serving SOF troops or Army Rangers? What were your impressions?

  • Did you have any opportunities to excel?

  • You’ve spoken of your disappointment w/yr fellow recruits: “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” you told Greenwald et al. Did you talk to anyone about your feelings – yr 1st Sgt or the chaplain?

  • When did the recruits learn the word “hajji” as shorthand for the enemy? Did they use it in training exercises?

  • Any particular chants stand out in your memory?

  • Were you ever bullied – either by peers or superiors? Were subsets of your training company ever singled out? Was there any sexual abuse going on w/that particular class of recruits?

  • Were your DIs or peers aware of your dissatisfaction with the racism you saw in some of training?

  • Did you break your legs in AIT or airborne? Any details you felt OK to share could be important.

  • What was your overall medical condition by this time, were you mostly fit?

  • How long did the discharge process take? Was there talk of recycling or transferring anywhere?

  • Did you stay in touch w/your family throughout training? How did they help you thtough?

  • What was your exact discharge characterization? Any chance I could see your DD214 (unlikely, I know…)

After discharge

  • You told WIRED that your military experience helped you get the job as a security guard at the CIA, which then discovered your IT potential. Was the mention of Ft. Benning on your resume mentioned when they hired you, then? Were those hiring you veterans?

  • At Langley, did you have access to SIPRNET and CIDNE?

  • You were in Geneva when the Iraq war started; you’ve said that many CIA ops were opposed to it, not just you. Were any of them veterans, or have kids serving?

  • When you went to Tokyo w/the CIA, where did you live? How aware were you of anti-U.S. sentiment on Okinawa and elsewhere?

  • What was your early response to the Wikileaks disclosures, and to the arrest of Private Manning?

  • You were in HI when Manning was held in isolation, forced to sleep naked, etc. Did any of his treatment bring on flashbacks to the worst aspects of BCT? When you were considering your own disclosures, how did his treatment influence your actions, if at all?

  • Was Booz Allen Hamilton full of ex-military types? What was that like for you?

Too many questions, I know, and some pushing the limits. Thank you for reading them and considering my request.

Congratulations again on all the well-deserved accolades for your incredible public service.

. Saluting 4,000 vets on the White House lawn

No, not in 2003. Not in 1971. In  1932.

The data caught up on me Friday, but May 29, 1932 was when the Bonus March arrived in Washington, D.C. — and laid the groundwork for how the U.S. currently pays veterans for their service in war.

These were veterans of the ‘Great War’,World War I: from our first really national army, two million strong. Many of these would push for justice, a stumbling, angry presence across class and race lines, even as the twenties were “roaring” around them.

And among them was Walter Waters, who would become the ‘commander’ of the BEF after losing his cannery job in 1929.By March 1932, he wrote years later, “we were not only penniless but had nothing left except a very scanty wardrobe.There were many days that winter when we experienced actual hunger.”

While job-hunting, Walters discovered many men like him – another ‘lost generation,’ rootless since the Armistice. “I found that a large percentage of these men in Portland were, like myself, ex-service men…Among these men there was profound discontent with conditions. There was a ravaging desire to change them but a complete and leaden ignorance of the way to do it….These men did think and talk a great deal about the so-called Bonus.”

Thus did Waters enter into another ongoing national debate: whether former soldiers deserved a permanent pension or a lump sum, known as “adjusted compensation” (usually expressed in its shorthand, “the bonus”). Veterans groups had long been split on the issue – the labor-oriented World War Veterans favored the bonus, while the anti-labor American Legion backed a proposal to pay it all out in government bonds. When the stock market crashed in 1929 the promise of those bonds seemed to evaporate, and with it the hopes of veterans who’d not been able to find their way.

Little of this veterans’ discontent traced back into opposition to war itself, especially as Adolf Hitler’s rise in Europe began to be notice. The Red Scare had dampened much of the progressive energy that had fueled much prewar resistance. But Waters was among those who didn’t let this one go, pulling together what became called the “Bonus Expeditionary Force.”

When thousands of veterans began to converge on Washington, D.C. in 1932, for a “bonus march,” their chant was more satiric than political, and set to the tune of the last decades’ greatest hit:

Over there, over there

Tell the world to beware

Cause the Yanks are starving, the Yanks are starving….

They marched in rleans, Poughkeepsie. Black and white veterans sometimes marched together. It wgroups of ten, of thirty, of several hundred; they marched from San Francisco, New Oas a march against invisibility, and an ever-escalating demand for recognition, as much as for a permanent pension. By the eve of a May 29 vote on a comprehensive package of veterans assistance, there were 4,000 veterans out in front of the White House, with an additional 3,000 on the way.

Calling their fort “Camp Marks,” the group published several issues of the newspaper BEF News.The national organizing committee included the Workers Ex-Servicemen’s League, a Communist front group that carried on the tradition started at Fort Leavenworth nearly 20 years earlier.

After six months, the growing and ever-more-militant protest moved Hoover to order colonel Douglas MacArthur to move against the encampments in 1933, claiming that the encampments endangered public safety. MacArthur went further than his orders, chasing down veterans all over the capital and leaving scores injured, actions that may have helped doom the Hoover administration in the 1933 elections.

When the next wave of bonus marchers got to Washington the following year, the Roosevelt administration was working to implement its New Deal and reserving spots in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for “Great War” veterans – thus treating them, as has been true ever since, like just another special-interest group. In turn, the veterans’ demands fueled the drive in Congress to provide some level of social insurance, to prevent war veterans from becoming a privileged class unto themselves.

Some of you may recognize the voice in the video, saluting the ragged vet troops: Maj. Gen, Smedley Butler, who went on to write War is a Racket. I’d originally conceived of this piece as drawing more explicit connnections to contemporary vets’ issues, from the VA to “pension reform.” But for now, I’ll take my cue from Butler and just call this a salute: To those sweaty, determined men whose struggle changed our world forever, even if the most fundamental of their demands remains unmet.

No #47traitors here;The Logan Act’s namesake just wanted peace with France

If you’ve been following national politics some, you may have heard, from both the left and the right, people naming the “Logan Act” as a way to penalize those Republican senators who sent a letter to Tehran behind Obama’s back. This isn’t the site for it, so I’ll leave it to Charlie Pierce to  explain the atrocity.

What I can do, however, is make “Logan Act” less of a partisan mantra – and explain why we care about it over here. It’s actually an oooooold amendment to the Sedition Act: not the 1917 Act, whose buddy the Espionage Act is currently being used to prosecute whistleblowers, but JOHN ADAMS’ 1798 version. Trying to make like George Bush and get on with a sorta-war with France, Adams had to contend with two soldiers, a current Army medic and one veteran-chaplain-poet, neither of whom thought the newborn nation they’d fought for should take on naval kabuki as its first order of business.

220px-GeoLoganThe ink was barely dry on the Constitution when the first of America’s Wars for Unclear Purposes began: the naval duel with France known as the Quasi-War. By the time the latter ended in 1800, two soldier-dissenters had tried to prevent it—Quaker physician/militiaman George Logan {left} and former Continental Army chaplain Joel Barlow—while Matthew Lyon, now “the asp” of colonial politics, was imprisoned for publishing his objections , calling President Adams names, and publishing “confidential” memos meant for the elite.

The two who tried to prevent it were both Francophiles. Logan, whose grandfather had been secretary to William Penn, was a physician who had spent the war attending medical school in Switzerland and traveling in Europe; upon his return, he hobnobbed with his local militia and began serving in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Fluent in French and something of early enthusiast for the French Revolution, Logan watched closely as Adams responded to French naval maneuvers, made uneasy by unresolved treaty obligations and a new U.S.-Britain treaty. Also watching closely was Yale poet Barlow, veteran of the Battle of Saratoga, now living in France, having rushed to help the French with their Revolution. Barlow wrote home and encouraged Madison to send commissioners to meet with Talleyrand, horrified when said envoys were unable to get him that appointment.  As naval insults continued and anti-French sentiment was high in Congress, Logan took it upon himself to go to France, to see if he could possibly talk to the Directory and test the waters for peace.

While Logan was taking the Quaker path and listening, back home Adams had secured new funds for the U.S. Navy and recalled General Washington in preparation for a ground war. He also acted to crack down on the Federalist press, which in classic 18th-century flavor was a flood of insults to the “tyrant” Adams. Congress then passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, the latter of which made it a crime to criticize the President. Fines were set of up to $2,000 for any person convicted of uttering, writing or printing any “false, scandalous and malicious statement against the Government of the United States; or either House of the Congress of the United States, with intent to defame… or to bring them […] into contempt or disrepute.”

There was a special Logan Amendment added to the Act, written especially for George Logan, whose freelance diplomacy was regarded as traitorous. Logan had, however, met with Talleyrand; after securing the release of some captured U.S. sailors, he sailed for home in August carrying a list of possible terms for peace negotiators. When he arrived in November, he was immediately, if briefly, arrested.

Thinking about all this is enough to turn me into Alanis – as in, “Isn’t it ironic…” To rail against GOP senators who love war against Iran by threatening to use legislation meant to stop an enthusiastic Quaker from preventing a war – that’s jujitsu of a worthy sort.

bloody bloody caricature of the citizen soldier

bloodybloodyThis Daily Beast call to strip Andrew Jackson off the $20 is way overdue:

it doesn’t stop with the Trail of Tears. The military record that made Jackson a “war hero”? One long recitation of atrocity. Heroically breaking a treaty with the Creeks to slaughter them wholesale. Taking advantage of the Battle of New Orleans to rule the city as an iron-fisted dictator, complete with summary executions. Ignoring his orders during the First Seminole War in order to conquer Florida, flouting international law in order to grab more territory for America and more glory for himself.

As the playwrights who wrought Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson well knew, AJ is for many the stereotype of the populist soldier-leader. They also knew what I’ve come to believe, that the guy brutalized by British soldiers as a child grew up trying to re-enact that brutalization, over and over.

That’s one of our national original sins, as well. “This country still has an issue equating quickness to rage with moral courage,” the Daily Beast also points out. Telling the difference between anger and rage is an important part of growing up, one this country may not have mastered.

And while Jackson inspired many of his troops to worship him, a not-inconsiderable number said no.

He complained about it constantly. “Two hundred and ninety-nine dead on the field” by the end of 1813, Jackson wrote. “Could I have followed up that victory immediately, the Creek war, before this, had been terminated. But I was compelled [to stop] by a double cause—the want of supplies and the want of cooperation from the East Tennessee troops.” Those words came after two brutal battles in a row: At Tallaskutchee, more than a quarter of Jackson’s troops were killed, marginally fewer when they took the Creek stronghold of Talladega five days later.

There are no surviving letters describing the horrors of those battles. But Jackson watched two brigades melt away as they ended. Neither his beloved militia nor the one-year volunteers, who the previous year had marched to Natchez and back with him, would stay for the rest. “There is grate talk about the 10th of December,” one wrote. “I do not think that Genl Jackson intends to discharge us that day but I still think we shall go home.”

In an oft-recounted episode, Jackson stood shakily on his weapon. “If two men will remain with me, I will never abandon this post,” he said, eventually convincing 109 men to stay. Though he released the rest, the final battles of that campaign brought much harsher measures. Jackson court-martialed a young recruit, John Woods, who’d left his post and talked back to an officer: troops were ordered to watch as the boy was surrounded by soldiers and shot to pieces with 70-caliber rifles.

This and other courts-martial doused another set of mutinies at Fort Strother, the fort built on the bones of Talladega. What was left: a hardened, disciplined group that followed orders right to the climactic battle of Horseshoe Bend, which killed 3000 Creeks and sent the rest fleeing deep into the Floridas. By then the war against Britain was two years old, and Jackson was well on his way to turning Jefferson’s “closed hand” into official Indian policy.

When the battle came to New Orleans, it was a victory lap for Jackson. He faced the British and their Cherokee allies with what Edward Skeen calls “a ragtag force of Creoles, Baratarian pirates, free blacks, Indians, and assorted militia from Louisiana and neighboring states.”

Four hundred Kentucky volunteers deserted mid-battle, leaving the left flank of the city unprotected. It might make a better story if those volunteers had left because they had heard the news that peace had been declared: negotiators in Europe had already signed a treaty in Ghent to end the war. But the reasons appear to be closer to the usual mix of hunger, confusion, and fear of being scalped by Britain’s Indian allies. Their action became notorious, with vivid descriptions in Navy Secretary Daniel Patterson’s February report to the National Intelligencer.

That issue of the Intelligencer could have been subtitled, “Desertion Special.”  Pages 3-4 of the 16-page daily are taken up almost entirely with lists of deserters from Andrew Jackson’s southern campaign.

At least a few of those deserters were saying no to genocide, no to rage.  Their voices echo those who want Jackson off the $20 bill, in favor of someone with no career genocides.

“under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country”

Worth Fighting For - cover  I can’t stop reading Rory Fanning’s Worth Fighting For. Every time I pick it up to check something, I’m swept into this prose poem disguised as a veteran’s memoir.

moments, its first a sergeant’s 2002 shout of “Gimme 20, Tillman!” addressed to Pat Tillman,  college football legend turned Army Ranger trainee. Tillman’s dignified, defiant response, refusing to be humiliated after following orders, sets the tone for the rest: be smart, be critical, be worth admiring.

Along the route Fanning has raised $45,000 for the Pat Tillman Foundation, mostly not talking about the fact that he was also a conscientious objector or that Tillman had considered doing the same before dying by friendly fire in 2004. Fanning walked to learn more about this country and its people, and many of the moments include those people, paired with his own memories and those of the nation.

The title of this post is an excerpt from the Ranger Creed, which Fanning provides in full mid-way through, adding that “I’m sure I both betrayed and honored every word of this code.” Those words, of course, remind me of so many other soldier-dissenters: I can still hear shards of Army/Navy/AF creeds in the voices of young vets who talked to me, most then saying that it was their command violating the requirement of honesty, integrity, selfless service.

This essay is thus less a review of Worth Fighting For (which you should absolutely buy) than a meditation on what he turned up, adding a few notes to his powerful music.

In each of the book’s moments,Fanning alternates telling his (and Tillman’s) story and offering glimpses of what he learned on the road, whether it’s the amazing people who welcomed him or the history evoked by each spot.

As he hits Raleigh, NC, he flashes back to his early days at Fort Lewis, having enlisted shortly after the September 11 attacks — and to his most high-stress/low-profile Ranger mission, jumping “into a desert that may or may not have been in Iran…The Iraq War broke out at the end of this tour.” Fanning then inserts a visit to nearby Monroe, NC, site of open war in the 1960s between black residents and the Ku Klux Klan.

In Chatsworth, GA he’s back to Ranger school, which he began after “nine months intimidating poor people in Afghanistan […] Men stood in front of their clay homes in some of the most impoverished villages on earth, forced to grin as Humvees, machine guns, and bombs rolled down their streets: Any signs of disapproval and they’d be subject to the [U.S.’] violent whims….” Such reflections built toward that moment when he told a Ranger School instructor: “I don’t believe in what I am doing anymore. I want out.” For this reader, that moment recalls Lt. Fred Marchant in Okinawa after seeing photos from My Lai, tearing through the base legal library until he saw the words “conscientious objection.” I don’t want to be part of this.

Fanning instead reaches toward a different time, when in-service CO discharge didn’t exist, as he reaches in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Ambrose Bierce recovered after numerous battles and before writing his trauma-scarred stories. Fanning contemplates evidence that most Civil War recruits died with their muskets unfired: Had he been there,”I likely would have been part of the majority who died with loaded weapons in their hands.”

Reading the above, I found myself wanting to tell Fanning about Bierce, or about the real Civil War COs: Cyrus Pringle, who starved rather than accept any military designation at all, or Jesse Macy, who fought to stay in uniform as a noncombatant. But Fanning’s four-paragraph essay on that ‘majority’ likely offered better comfort. Compression is a tool used by poets to maximize impact, and it worked.

Near the Oklahoma border, Fanning talks to veterans about Tillman, recalls being deployed again to Afghanistan as a pariah after his CO decision, and reflects on the Ranger Creed before reflecting on the real story of Oklahoma as former “Indian Territory.” He traces their fate to the tribes who supported the losing side in the Civil War, and gives the result in numbers: the 1890 census “showed 237.000 Natives living north of the Rio Grande,” a 97% decrease from their estimated numbers before colonization. This time I wanted to introduce Col. Benjamin Grierson, who intervened so often on Indians’ behalf around 1890 that his command thought him “too Quaker” for the job.

In Texas, Fanning similarly gives a lot of ink to the San Patricio Battalion, who switched sides during the Mexican-American War — after a valentine to the town of Commerce, TX, which had declared a “Rory Fanning Day” in his honor, and before meeting an activist who herself had walked across America — but in 1986, in the anti-nuclear Great American Peace March.

In New Mexico, a state whose grandeur he already adores, Fanning also puts his descriptive talent to work at the White Sand Missile Range: “That night, under all the stars and in an exhausted trance, I listened to Radiohead’s ‘Subterranean Lovesick Alien‘. Then the earth shook […] The major explosions went on for hours.” Camped just outside the testing, Fanning endures the sound of “blacked-out helicopters unloading heavy machine fire.” You almost don’t need his interstitial essay on “Trinity Site Nuclear Testing” after that.

By the time Fanning reaches that west coast, we’ve learned the whole story of Fanning’s journey and the crucial ways Tillman supported it. One finishes having learned, we feel, nearly as much as Rory, and grateful to him for taking us along.

In addition to my own obvious desire for a dialogue between Fanning’s book and mine, I read this with a mix of admiration and deep sadness, for the string of broken promises he notes. But that could have as much to do with this year’s entry into Iraq War III as anything else.

Most of all, I felt myself savoring his poem, and glad that we’ll likely be having this conversation for years to come.