A book by its cover?

With my book in total re-moulting mode, a dear friend designed four concepts for a possible cover for the book. I don’t have the rights to any of the images, but it does feel like a weighty historical tome this way. And either way, I think I’ll make it the signature image for the Kickstarter campaign I hope to launch next week, to help fund this last (really!) push.

What do you think? Any other images or approach you’d prefer?

Design by Brian Siano

Video: Michael Ratner tells Manning’s story, David Coombs explains

michael_ratnerI mentioned this presentation in yesterday’s Manning post, and thought I’d post it at the end. But when I actually saw it, I realized that as important as David Coombs was the presentation by Michael Ratner, longtime anchor of the Center for Constitutional Rights.    When I met Ratner in 2004, was bemused when I told him that some American soldiers were nearly as powerless as the Guantanamo detainees I was interviewing him about. But that was before Wikileaks rocked CCR’s world, likely due to this one military prankster. (Also before Ratner’s late mentor, William Kunstler, became a major character in this book.) At right, Ratner in Democracy Now’s coverage of last week’s proceedings.

Now, watch as Ratner narrates — with aplomb born of outrage— the experience Manning described of his unprecedented pre-trial detention.   If former Major William Kunstler was watching from the beyond, he was applauding.  Watch that part, even if you have no patience for the careful arguments of Manning’s attorney.

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we all have our secrets

Speaking of Bradley Manning…

Photo: Bill Perry

Photo: Bill Perry

I first saw the video below last year, during the very FIRST of Manning’s pre-trial hearings; I was at that week’s vigil outside Fort Meade, which also doubled as a Veterans for Peace convention. (I’m the one in the beret in this photo, behind Dan Choi and Ray McGovern).

Even though the text was drawn from the chat logs, I had the same worries about posting it as about writing about the gender issue. Now, I think it’s an easy way to get a peek of some useful information, including a glimpse of that young-libertarian mindset that’s familiar to so many of us.

Bradley Manning Had Secrets from Animate Projects on Vimeo.

bradleymanning1.jpg.scaled1000Before he ever was a soldier, Manning was an out gay guy – a gay Starbucks barista, of all things.  We know that from his Facebook page, preserved for us by PBS. We also know that he stayed openly gay AFTER enlisting. He doesn’t mention being gay-bashed in basic, something his peers told Welsh journalists about, though he does mention being in the “discharge unit.”  But by then he was a soldier, and felt himself part of something important, and hoped to stay on. And then.

Then hasn’t ended yet, by a long shot.

Status report

calendarFor those who might be wondering why this whole project is so overdue.and/or why you DIDN’T see it on the fall catalog for UCPress.

When I started working on this book, its subtitle was Soldiers Who Dissent: From George Washington to John Murtha, the latter name because back then, in 2006,  it wasn’t that long since the late Rep. Murtha first spoke against the war in Iraq.  I was originally scheduled to deliver a manuscript in 2008.

That was, of course, awhile ago.  George W. Bush would still be president. In that time, the U.S. war in Iraq has ended under a new president, who expanded that in Afghanistan and commenced an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers, which is why the subtitle has changed to focus on one such whistleblower — who as I write this is undergoing pre-trial proceedings at Fort Meade.

For most of that time I was also working as a reporter and a Web editor, which limited the time I could devote to the ms. — just as the amount of material I had to cover seemed only to expand. There was a lot to do:

Doing right by the past. Since my explicit focus is on both servicemembers and veterans, the fruits of my reporting showed a far deeper bench of dissenters from earlier eras: rather than the one-big-pre-WWI chapter evinced in the proposal, there’s now five. Even the 1980s deserved their own chapter.

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“Canada! Canada! Canada!”


Two hundred years ago, Canada had been fighting off invaders for nearly six months; with First Nations allies,  U.S. forces had been defeated at Detroit and Queenston.  In addition to the invaluable coalition with Native forces including the great Tecumseh, the invasions failed in part due to the refusal of some brave soldiers to participate. If they had crossed the border, some might doubtless have remained in Canada afterward and sought refuge  — just like an intrepid crew of American soldiers has done since the illegal Iraq war began.

This past fall, Kimberly Rivera became the most high-profile Iraq resister to be denied sanctuary by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who refused to acknowledge that she’d be arrested when she crossed the border. Many, if not most, Canadians supported her expulsion, saying what former Prime Minister Trudeau’s “refuge from militarism” was never meant for deserters, especially in these days without official conscription. But the story of dissenters in uniform is far richer than we know — and people like Rivera have long been part of the (North) American story.

In 1776, the same month the Declaration of Independence was being finalized in Philadelphia, Lt. Matthew Lyon was just getting to sleep when he heard the shouts. “Turn out! Turn out!”/p>

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the power and the glory

Wondering what to read for Veterans Day? Try this round table sponsored by Boston Review, in response to the essay “War is Betrayal” by Chris Hedges. The responses are from three veterans, a Texas professor of history, and mio — I was honored to be invited. Check out some bracing prose, including

  • Phillip Carter: “War is hell, to be sure, but it is also an incredibly complex endeavor that registers the gamut of human emotions and experiences: the inhumanity of killing without justification; the conflicted act of killing for a just cause or in the name of self-defense; the fear and courage of soldiers and civilians…”
  • /p>

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preview #3: wars over original sins

Health problems and deadline pressure have kept me silent on this blog. But I thought I’d offer, for anyone wandering across this space, my meditation on America’s “second war of Independence,” and whose independence matters now.


The dark-skinned fifteen-year-old boy looked up at the two genial soldiers and wondered how to get clothes that fine.  Certainly nowhere near this drafty boarding house in the Bronck’s part of New York, with ocean winds chilling the bone.
William Apess had spent most of the past two months running. He’d lost his traveling companions, with whom he’d sailed from New England paying only with borrowed charm and fake war stories.  Apess didn’t know what to do now: his master swore he had another year left on his indenture, but he was done with being tormented by some Connecticut farmer who thought he could batter the half-Pequot Indian and half African man at will. He grinned when the soldiers offered him another drink, and again when they made their offer.
“By then I had acquired many bad practices,” Apess wrote 20 years later in his memoir A Son of the Forest. After a few drinks, the soldiers “told me about the war, and what a fine thing it was to be a soldier. I was pleased with the idea of being a soldier, took some more liquor and some money, had a cockade fastened to my hat, and went off in fine spirits.” Not that he was particularly interested in the new war. It was 1812, not the Revolution, and “I could not think why I should risk my life, my limbs, in fighting for the white man, who had cheated my people out of their land.”
Apess would go AWOL after six months of basic training on Governor’s Island and watching as a captured deserter was executed before trainees’ eyes, be tortured upon his return in mock “scalpings,” and operate a cannon in the unsuccessful invasion of Montreal all before he reached legal age. It would be decades still before Apess became famous in the Pequot land of Massachusetts for organizing a quiet revolt by the Mashpee Indians, and praised in the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator.

In many ways, the War of 1812 was the first of what was often to come: wars begun by men without military experience for ever-changing reasons, feeding the development of events that became clearer casi belli, fued by underlying economic rationales even as the deep economic and human costs became clearer.

This “Second War of Independence” was paired with continued action against American Indians, most memorably by war-hero-turned-politician Andrew Jackson. As Jackson sparked the “removal” of Indian tribes to points far west, his successor would corral thousands of regular and militia soldiers into extending the nation throughout the continent. Slavery, that other original sin, awaited its own war while shaping these.

The Louisiana Purchase, a mixed-blessing gift from Jefferson, brought all of the original sins into sharp relief: “purchased without blood,” the new territory contained slaveholders and rebel slaves and so did the war that followed a decade later. Would the new territories – and those won in that other war, against Indian nations – be slave states?  What kind of armies and navies would “defend’ them?
Competing land claims would raise the first war costs/who pays fights, with war veterans and widows still pleading their cases before Congress while many vets poured out their harrowing war stories in land claims hoping for a piece of the promised future. Early mavericks — most of them battling Andrew Jackson, whose “Indian removal” strategy enacted what Jefferson had only warned of — included William Lloyd Garrison, whose early refusal of militia service prefigured his future as a scion of abolitionism; Revolutionary veteran Noah Worcester, founder of the first national pacifist organization the American Peace Society; Texas icon Davy Crockett, and the Hamlet of American expansionism, General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, one of many graduates of the brand-new West Point to play a role in this story. Others included cadets Thomas Ragland and Nicholas Trist, who helped lead one of the first mutinies at the Academy, and Edgar Allan Poe, who started as a civilian “Private Perry” to support his writing and would eventually be poking fun at another, the future conqueror of California General Winfield Scott.

Meanwhile, the only women to insert ourselves here is Nicholas Trist’s mother, Thomas Jefferson’s close friend Elizabeth, while we can only deduce soldier’s heart in mirror image from the fury of Andrew Jackson and from the hundreds of soldiers, both in Andrew Jackson’s naval wars and those on the frontier, who occasionally “deserted by squads.” Throughout, the pesky men of conscience, whether liberal vets like Noah Worcester or stick-in-the muds like Garrison, would keep moving the zigzag path further along.

The war’s immediate causes, contested for the past century by historians, were as simple and complex as described by historian Albert Klyberg: “impressment of sailors, British trade restrictions for Americans doing business with the Continent, an American desire to annex Canada, and British-inspired Indian uprisings in the West.” The first on that list, impressment, became in Congressional debates conflated with less tangible concepts of the new country’s “honor” and credibility. “If we now recede we shall be a reproach to all nations,” said Henry Clay, perhaps originating a now well-worn theme.

Uniformed dissent in this new war was surprisingly robust. In private journals, petitions and public campaigns, both officers and ordinary soldiers raised questions about the federalization of the armed forces and the wars’ sometimes brutal conduct. It is not that surprising that so of our resisters sprang from West Point, equipped by its Ivy League-style education as much to challenge authority as assume it.
“You will find a great variety of characters at the Academy but generally high minded young men and some of them quarrelsome and extremely tenacious of their honor,” Charles Peters told his brother-in-law Ethan Allen Hitchcock, grandson of the founder of the Green Mountain Boys.

Operation Recovery’s Oleo Strut

About a year ago, Iraq Veterans Against the Wars began a campaign that sounded almost conservative: Operation Recovery, against the deployment of traumatized troops. The celebrated Camilo Mejia, when he and I talked in Philadelphia, was skeptical : “Sounds like the VFW.”

Actually, it’s a sign that IVAW gets it, in a very deep way.

Photo: New York Times

By “it” I mean the confluence of dissent-ingredients I’ve been tracking in my book, most especially the multifaceted effects of combat trauma. This week, a team at Fort Hood in Texas reported on what they saw:

–       We listen to the Military Police Sergeant talk about her soldier that is only 21 years old and after one deployment just can’t function any longer. He needs help and treatment, and their commander makes his every attempt to get help harder as opposed to easier.

–       We listen to the Medic Sergeant talk about the number of suicides and attempted suicides that no one is talking about.

–       We listen to the soldier on extra duty talk about being shot on his third deployment, needing to take pain relievers, running out of pills, taking his wife’s pills to get through the day, and then getting courtmartialed for taking the wrong medication.

–       We listen to the soldiers talk about their non-commissioned officers that are shaken and struggling with anxiety and memories but are gearing up to deploy again.

All of the above is often greeted with “Suck it up and drive on,” at least in the Army. To insist that the Pentagon do otherwise is actually quite a sucker punch to the machine that relies on obedience to that one instruction.

My friend Luis Carlos Montalvan, told TIME Magazine (published this week): “There are 18 suicides a day among veterans. I’d do anything to help prevent that tragedy.” We all know now that the numbers for active-duty guys are just as troubling. Luis and his amazing book (buy it!) are on a mission of essential if non-controversial service. Op Recovery, as I said to Camilo, is just as essential and potentially revolutionary. Dave Cline, founder of the Vietnam-era Oleo Strut, would have been proud of them.

Update about the book

For so long it’s been a work-in-progress; this site, and its associated Facebook page, a way to keep up with current affairs and share my building page count. And it still is: it’s out to outside readers who are just getting back to me, and will be revised yet again before it goes to the typesetter. But the process has begun: it’ll be in the fall 2012 catalog for University of California Press.  (When I’m down, I go to the site at that link and envision myself in its New Releases box.) And while I revise and wait, I’ll hold onto the good words of some who’ve read it so far. My editor, Naomi Schneider, said that I was “a fabulous writer” with “a wonderfully evocative, self-deprecating style that really pulls the reader in.” Another told me it read like “a lyrical essay.”  Others have been a little less enthusiastic, but that’s starting to prepare me for the cold world of actual book reviews.

The first change made by Naomi was a change in the subtitle: from “Soldiers Who Dissent, from George Washington to John Murtha” to “…to Bradley Manning.” And if I get to cover Manning’s trial, that may be the  very last revision we make — or a web-only special.

The web extras already include numerous stories I had to cut from the book for space — including the recently-deceased Geronimo Pratt. There are so many more than we can fit. Which do you think is irreplaceable?

And to keep the self-promotion to a single post, I wanted to mention that On The Issues invited me to contribute to their summer issue on Women and War. The lede is adapted from a piece of my World War II chapter:

In 1944 Dorothy Hanson was a 20-year old Army lieutenant, a nurse, stationed in a Staten Island hospital when a corporal “put something in my drink,” she explained 50 years later. “He hit my head with a rock. I was beaten and kicked.” After a few days of concussion-induced amnesia, Hanson realized what her subordinate had done, she said. “He said: say anything and you’re dead.” Hanson would ultimately become one of the oldest living survivors to be granted disability compensation from the VA for sexual trauma experienced while on active duty.

The issue also includes some other people also in the book, like the iconic Cora Weiss (whose husband Peter is one of my WWII vets) as well as women peacemakers worth checking out. Go look, if you like!

it sounds so much simpler when he says it

I know this blog has been silent for so many m0nths: more than six! How can it be? But I  didn’t feel like I could keep writing here until I had the book actually delivered to the publisher.

That has now happened, and I’ll say more about it later. But right now, I wanted to talk about the clip below, in which Lt.  Dan Choi is unapologetic in his support for whistleblower Bradley Manning. (At right, the March rally in which Daniel Ellsberg and Ann Wright were both arrested, protesting Manning’s treatment at Quantico.)

“A soldier who lived up to the mandate of the soldier.” That’s elegant. I now wish I’d managed to interview him directly, before including him as one of the major figures of my final chapter. Manning, of course, is a far more major figure, embodying at least three of Ain’t Marching’s core themes. And the first change suggested by my editor, when she read the book, was in its title: it’s now I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Soldiers Who Dissent, From George Washington to Bradley Manning.  I couldn’t say it better than Choi above, though I certainly did at greater length.

Like Choi and almost everyone else expressing an opinion about his case, I’ve not had the opportunity to speak to Spc. Manning, or even to his attorney or best friend. I’m trying not to project onto him my own ideas about dissent, or whistleblowers as mavericks, or the inherent challenge thrown at militarism by its gender issues. I’m hoping to be able to cover his  court martial this fall, and perhaps to offer some somewhat more direct observations.

But right now, it’s both true and poetic that the whole Wikileaks scandal has punctured anyone’s ability to make conventional assumptions about our foreign policy. And if that’s not dissent, I’m not sure what is.4

What do you think?