Groundhog Day for women in the military?

When anyone asks me how I got started with all this, I invariably mention CCCO and the G.I. Rights Hotline in the 1990s. But it’s not often that I wake up and feel such a strong echo of those years, as I did yesterday upon news of sexual assault of recruits at Fort Benning.

Back then, the Department of Defense had no Victim Advocates, no admiral serving as a sexual-assault response coordinator. As I write this, I’m hoping to learn more about the Pandora’s box opened by that one brave recruit who reported her abuse and led to the discovery of still more.

But excuse me if I feel flashed back to the old days, some of which appears below in more outtakes from Da Book.

In December 1991, Paula Coughlin was pumped when she got to Las Vegas for the Tailhook Convention. The weather, 80 degrees with no humidity, felt a relief from the near-tropical Maryland coast where she served as a rear-admiral’s right hand at Patuxent Air Force Base. A qualified airman with eight years in the Navy, Coughlin had long looked forward to Tailhook, a prestigious if famously boozy semiannual event. She changed quickly and headed for the third floor, where her friends were waiting.

But no one had told her, she told the Washington Post six months later, about the gauntlet:

When Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin first spotted them – a youthful, clean-cut bunch of guys lounging in a third-floor hallway of the Las Vegas Hilton – it never crossed her mind that she should be afraid. After all, she recalls thinking, these were Navy and Marine pilots. Pilots just like her.

But Coughlin, a helicopter pilot and admiral’s aide, was quickly enveloped by terror. Grabbed from behind and propelled down the hallway to jeers of “admiral’s aide, admiral’s aide,” Coughlin was repeatedly pawed and molested. One man grabbed her breasts, another tried to remove her panties.

She bit down, hard, on the forearm of one of her attackers, but still the men kept coming….. “Help me,” she said to another man who seemed to be walking away. He turned and grabbed her breasts.i

After Coughlin, the daughter of a World War II aviator who’d joined ROTC as a college sophomore in 1984, told her superiors what had happened, 25 women also revealed similar assaults at the convention and by fliers attending. Six months after Navy investigators, not excluding her own boss, failed to take decisive action, she held a press conference: by the end of that week Navy Secretary Lawrence Garrett had resigned, taking responsibility for “the leadership failure which allowed the egregious conduct.” “Investigators from two separate Navy agencies had been stymied by a wall of silence put up by pilots and their commanders,” wrote Eric Schmitt at the New York Times, “but the agencies had each made their own fumbles. The Naval Investigative Service omitted important documents from its report; the Naval Inspector General’s office failed to put its chief investigator on the case.”

That has left the Defense Department Inspector General’s office, a larger agency with subpoena powers, to gather up thousands of pages of Navy interviews and try to make sense of them. That could take two or three months, and lawmakers are exasperated. “We now have investigators investigating investigators,” said Senator Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee. The committee is venting its frustration by holding up more than 4,500 Navy and Marine Corps promotions until the officers are cleared of any involvement in the scandal.ii

Schmitt knew that the prospect of delaying promotions, interrupting normal military business, for a question of misconduct toward women was unprecedented, and created enormous backlash. Some pointed out that Tailhook, in particular, was a notorious bacchanal, and that Coughlin had therefore “knew what she was getting into” and now had no cause to complain.

Still others, not for the last time, chose this as the moment to question women’s inclusion in the armed forces to begin with. James Webb’s 1979 “Why Women Can’t Fight” was resurrected, and GI’s howled at now-mandatory sexual harassment trainings. Such abuse, they added, was different than women being molested by the enemy, as two POWS had been during the recent war (a fact unveiled during congressional inquiries in the aftermath of Tailhook).

Then, Major Rhonda Cornum told reporters later, her “mission focus” had completely shifted to staying alive.iii That assault hadn’t been made public for multiple reasons; when it was, it was seized by the Elaine Donnelly crowd as yet another reason women didn’t belong in the military. But the truer challenge to established order came not from some random Iraqi, but from the domino effect of multiple reports like Coughlin’s that would reach critical mass by the end of the decade.

When the call came from ABC News, Kathleen Gilberd sat back: This wasn’t a distressed soldier calling the Military Law Task Force, or even a vet like Margarethe Cammermeyer. Then almost immediately she sat up straight again. “Aberdeen Proving Ground? Yeah, basic training. These trainees are usually only 18.” She listened, swallowing hard. ‘”How many are saying they were raped?”

Gilberd was by then well known for her brilliant advocacy for military personnel’ . Bridget Wilson, a former Navy captain and full-time attorney in San Diego, told me that Gilberd’s legal strategies had often “set the bar, especially during the AIDS crisis.”iv In 1992, Gilberd and MLTF had initiated a lawsuit when the Pentagon instituted mandatory AIDS testing in the early 1990s. In their mission to keep the information confidential, Gilberd told the Associated Press: “The rights of people in the military need to be protected against a system which is both institutionally and informally discriminatory.” v

And as the gender wars unfurled, Gilberd became a national expert on dealing with women who reported sexual assault as well as discrimination. That phone call in 1996 was about a rape scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground, described at the time by Washington Post reporter Jackie Spinner:

From the first allegations of rape late last year to the acknowledgment by the Army that something had indeed gone terribly wrong. To the filing of criminal charges against 11 sergeants and one captain. To the further acknowledgment that there were problems Army-wide. To the national hot line set up that recorded 1,288 complaints of abuse in its seven months in operation, 353 of which resulted in criminal investigations. To, most of all, the trial this spring of Delmar Simpson, an Aberdeen drill sergeant who was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for raping six female soldiers under his command.vi

Those six young women, whose behavior contained all the paradoxes of eighteen-year-olds but who knew that you weren’t “supposed” to complain about your sergeants, also knew five years after Tailhook that they could. They knew partly because of Paula Coughlin and the other 20 women who’d refused to let it go after Tailhook. They’d seen, as kids, the 1995 TV-movie made about the case, and the ongoing reports about the lawsuits Coughlin and her co-plaintiffs won against the Tailhook Association and Hilton Hotels, charging that their safety had been endangered. They might even have heard of the landmark study out of the Minnesota VA, in which nearly a third reported some level of abuse.

After all these years, “women in the military” was as fiercely contested an issue as ever – but now, after 6000 women served in the Gulf, female trainees like those at Aberdeen were seen as essential by both sides, and after Coughlin their charges more likely to be taken seriously. Thousands more women came forward, of every rank and branch of service, giving testimony to their members of Congress, reporters (as did Dorothy Hanson, the WAC mentioned in Chapter Seven) or to their local VA hospital, some of which were developing treatment programs for rape survivors. By 1998, the volume would spur a Department of Defense Task Force headed by General Evelyn Foote, another former WAC who told me, years later, that sexual harassment and abuse had long been endemic.

Foote’s participation in the debate placed the issue as one of “readiness,” a move away from dissent welcomed by advocates pressing press for the final lifting of all restrictions on women in combat.Similar arguments bolstered hopes for gay personnel, who over the decade secured victories in the courts and in the establishment of nonpartisan research and advocacy groups that recorded the costs of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It would take a few more decades for all this energy to be translated into change, and military gender issues would remain a trope of partisan politics.

“History isn’t repeating itself. It isn’t even rhyming,” I tweeted yesterday. “It’s condensing into a poisonous fog.”

A fog that mostly doesn’t belong in Ain’t Marching. But maybe it’s the book after this one?

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How could you run, when you know?

A journo friend of mine adapted the lyrics of the song above to mark last weekend’s explosion, as well as covering those events for Souciant. Like  many who weren’t there, I feel the least i can do is reflect here/

As a super-late boomer (the Obama generation), I’ve spent much of my life feeling I missed out on something important, with the 1960s in the rear mirror. And growing up in a community drawn to the GOP by Nixon’s “southern strategy,” I knew damn well that the fight wasn’t over. In some ways, I’ve spent 40+ years trying to make up for that earlier absence.

But by 2017 I thought the evil had mutated, become more complex: reality-show propaganda (cf Jennifer L. Pozner), Army of One video games, cyberwar. It’s both bracing and more than a little depressing to see the original turn up in such a naked form. Like many of us, I spent much of yesterday glued to the news during the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But will having to confront the coming KKK assault on campuses (Charlottesville was practice, apparently) help the Trumpaniacs get on with their big task of shredding what’s left of our civil rights and the country’s safety net? Or will it help unify the fight?

So grateful to have re-connected here with Jan Houbolt, who I first met when he was my boss at a Baltimore anti-hunger organization. I never picked up on hs VA accent, or knew he’d been a footsoldier in that earlier movement. You all look like giants now, Jan.

Also grateful for the young activists already taking up the thread and weaving it into something powerful.We lost one yesterday.

She was a 32-year-old paralegal named Heather, and was one of the young leftists who’d joined others confronting the Unite the Right rally, and was mowed down when a guy driving a Dodge Charger intentionally mowed into the crowd. At a vigil last night for her in Philly, so many were younger than she, giving me hope for the future.

vvaw1970I’m also heartened by the soldier-dissenters who immediately stepped up, including the Iraq/Afpak vets on Common Defense. And the Vietnam Veterans Against the War are gearing up to join the fight, offering this photo to connect with struggles of the past.

Those guys in 1972 probably sang that song about Kent State at the top of this post. I’ll end with the words of Ari Paul, who changed the lyrics for our time:

Tin soldiers and Donald’s coming,
We’re finally on our hill.
This summer I hear the drumming,
One dead in Charlottesville.
Gotta get down to it
Nazis are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

.

VIDEO: Millennials and conscience

Some video reminders why this book has to exist. A simple question, posed 6 years ago by a respected journalist to an author, was already being answered Chelsea Manning, soon to be echoed by the voices of the whistleblowers above.

I discovered the first as I was reshaping – for the last time, I hope! — my World War I chapter, featuring the iconic conscientious objector Evan Thomas. His great-niece Louisa wrote a book about her family, and was interviewed by Jon Meacham below:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?300240-1/conscience

Watching this six years later, I was struck first by how much Thomas resembles her uncle. Then, after an engaging discussion of conscience, war and social responsibility, Meacham asks Thomas “Why does your generation not engage in this kind of dissent?” Meacham asks this despite knowing about then-Private Manning, who at that very moment was in the same prison where Evan Thomas had been tortured. (In that case, Meacham was taking the government’s side.)

Thomas’ response ignores contemporary soldier-dissenters, telling Meacham “Maybe it’s because we aren’t being forced to go to war” and suggesting that the Shark Tank crowd comprised her generation of rebels. But just as I was listening to that exchange, in my Twitter feed gave us Lisa Ling, one of those who stepped forward in Sonia Kennebuck’s documentary NATIONAL BIRD.

I can’t embed the video, but you should click on the link and watch it. Shaming that 2011 Meacham-Thomas exchange, Ling uses the phrase “poverty draft,” which I’m still astonished is not more common. As she describes her path from aspiring nurse to anguished drone operator, you can almost hear the voices of Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh,both of whom honored me with interviews for Ain’t Marching.

When I’ve thought I should drop this whole project, I remember their faces and voices.

 

Intro, continued

After that loooong deconstruction of the book’s title…

The following pages offer an idiosyncratic path from the country’s beginnings to the 21st century. Our guides: a handful of soldier-dissenters, who nudged that arc of history toward something resembling peace and justice.

In the 1990s, when I was on staff at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, I used to half-joke that “if there’s gonna be a revolution, it’s going to happen because of antiwar veterans,” like those who volunteered for my branch of the G.I. Rights Hotline. Being defiantly uninterested in Marxist predictions of actual revolution, what I meant was that fundamental, progressive change has been escorted into American life with such figures, half-ignored even as they’re being lionized for other reasons.

On the simplest level, some kinds of military dissent — desertion comes to mind — ALWAYS constitute a challenge to the military’s functioning, and need to be described even when it’s for non-political reasons. More profoundly, what’s come clearest as I finish the book is that my interest is not so much those converting to pacifism, though that’s at the inquiry’s core, as the partial ones along the way. For each chapter and each war, I began seeking out and honoring soldier-dissent against the ends served by government-sponsored violence –many rooted in the country’s original sins, slavery and genocide of indigenous people. My old colleague Sam Diener might argue that since the means — military action — is odious, that should be enough; but so often it’s not.

The book’s cast was chosen through as “a kind of reverse funnel,” one ending in a laser-sharp focus on truly antiwar soldiers but beginning with a much wider palette: Chapters 1-7 include mutinies over late pay and desertion in protest of the freeing of slaves (one of the least glorious moments for Civil War soldiers) and then narrow through Vietnam and beyond — until, by the 21st century, we have our hands full just sorting through the challenges thrown up to what some Iraq vets call “gee-wot” (the Global War on Terror). Earlier rebellions, such as the 1779 mutinies against price-gouging and the 1930 Bonus March, I thought of only as “important reminders, especially through the Cold War, of the immense potential power of such rebellions.” That all sounds way too glib to me now.

What feels both more honest, as a journalist and historian: Include a selection of those who, having had a significant experience in the U.S. military, have used that experience to help nudge American society as a whole away from militarism. Mili-what? Think simply of the concept of “relying on armed enforcers to protect us and our stuff” (the latter meaning land, or water, or oil, or more amorphous concepts such as national identity, ideology or “credibility” ,e.g. saving face).

How did they use that experience? By speaking, or by secretly helping those who do. By telling the story of their war, either plain or as stories (like Haldeman’s) that still resonate. Their effect can be hard to measure, but it’s undeniable nonetheless. Howard Zinn wrote in 2004 that “Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.”i Zig-zag an essential component, given the paradox at ourinquiry’s core: people once trained to enforce U.S. foreign policy with weapons, now standing up against those same policies.

We can’t claim that any specific dissent resulted directly, or even semi-directly, in a more decent society: too many wild cards and unintended consequences, the latter of which can be as profound as planned-for missions. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a workable map, and make educated guesses about which of the surprises points toward peace.

Each was as different as his historical period, of course. The questioning soldier in a state militia in 1754 was different from a World War I grunt first witnessing mass slaughter, or a video-game-trained Iraq soldier weaned on Rambo’s machismo and used to Oprah’s emotional expression. Still, looking through their stories, some common threads emerge:

Mavericks” who came into the military already contrarian,

Struggles over compensation and the cost of war;

Combat trauma, from “soldier’s heart” through “shell shock” to PTSD

How non-pacifist soldiers made common cause with, and stood up for, our soldiers of conscience

the gender wild card, from stealth soldiers to torment and exclusion

Echoes over the years, making chords that helped catalyze change.

Welcome to my guided tour through America’s wars.

For starters, 1754 – 1875:

A Country Born of Dissent: Soldiers As Citizens, Counting the Costs

Our opening chapter, “A Country Born of Dissent,” shows us men just beginning to formulate the word “soldier” in their lives and claiming the dissent from which the new country was forming.

Even before breaking off from England, colonists saw themselves as creating something new, and that included the Continental Army;these(mostly) young men dissented out of a sense of themselves as participants in the still-new experiment of self-government, owning the word citizen.

Some state militias, called “a nasty lot” by British-trained General Washington, elected their own officers and called them “Executors in Trust.” Soldiers writing home from the French and Indian War cited their enlistment contracts as sacred documents, bemoaning underpayment as a betrayal, as their commands’ refusal to make good on a promise Conversely, once their brief contracts expired they felt free to clear out, sometimes en masse.

After the Declaration of Independence, those letters from soldierstalked about the new Republic as theirs, too. Their dissent was clear enough through a two-stage war with England, ending in 1815. The word “maverick” was coined in the 19th century, but even earlier soldiers were whistleblowers, organizers, journalists bearing witness against heavy odds.

The chapter actually begins on July 4, 1776 – with a soldier-rebellionin Jericho, Vermont,, far north of where the Continental Congress was completing the Declaration. That rebellion complicated the command of the maverick Captain Matthew Lyon, later nicknamed “the asp of colonial politics” and editor of the controversial newspaper The Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political TruthsWe also meet Joshua Ritter, a Pennsylvania recruit turned Quaker by his experience of warfare, and Dan Shays, remembered for a 1785 uprising against bankers led by Revolutionary veterans.

In between, Continental sailors exposed a Navy torturer in 1777; the First Company of the Philadelphia Artillery massed in Philadelphia and New York, complaining of poor treatment, followed by the 1781 Mutiny in January that almost got Washington involved.

The war for independence actually accelerated the racist genocide also taking place, as colonial governments became the land’s primary rulers. Among those charged with maintaining and increasing that rule, a rare few actually questioned why much of their time was spent fighting not the British but the land’s original inhabitants, who’d found the Redcoats a less invasive species than the hungry colonists.If the pay-me rebellions are the oldest, the next-oldest come from the mavericks defying prevailing wisdom and questioning our ”original sins,” planting deep, interconnected roots between military dissent and actions against racism and genocide, no matter how buried.

That second stage of what Phil Ochs called “the early English war” brought those truths clearer to those charged with fighting it. A few even who identified the nation’s two original sins: the slave economy and its progeny, and the bargain first proposed for native peoples by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “They will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States […else] we need only close our hand to crush them.” Protecting those two sins was the first main role of the American military.

First to question these priorities, perhaps unsurprisingly, were soldiers of color. Half-Indian Army scout Simon Girty ended his long, scattered military career after the notorious Squaw Campaign of 1789, suggesting that his fellow patriots were more interested in trampling on treaties than besting the British. Thirty years later, half-black half-Pequot soldier William Apess wondered why he was fighting in the War of 1812 against those who’d despoiled his ancestors. Apess’ musing, “why should I fight for a country that took my land?” casts triangulated light on that war’s expansionist aims. (For all the geopolitical context and diplomatic spittle, it ended only when the Brits exacted a promise not to mess with the Indians).

General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, his Vermont lineage as white as one could get, still took up Apess’ thread, calling the Jefferson-Jackson expansion policies “a blight upon the Indian.” When another president sent him to Mexico for another very-regretted war, Hitchcock made common cause with West Point dropout and rogue diplomat Nicholas Trist, who ignored the commander-in-chief and negotiated peace.

In the latter war, one of Hitchcock’s West Point students, Ephraim Kirby Smith, went from proud enthusiast to chronicler of the damage done, warning that his commander in chief “will have proved the worst enemy that Democracy ever had.” Though neither he nor Hitchock were becoming pacifists, they were unafraid of identifying sickness in the body politic, and tracing it back to those original sins.

That task would be front and center when the next war emerged.

The Civil War: Jayhawkers, Drafted Quakers and Soldier’s Heart

Most opponents of that Mexican-American war, whether soldier, civilian or veteran, were fairly clear about that war strengthened slavery, increasing the number of slave states and the South’s economic and political power. “This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, about to spend time in jail for refusal to pay taxes to support either. Frederick Douglass, ten years after publishing his account of his life as a slave, editorialized against the Mexican war often in his abolitionist newspaper The North Star.

Douglass and his newspaper, like the abolitionist movement it was leading, moved on after 1840 from relentless newspapering and prayer– and began to contemplate direct action against what they called the Slave Power. Between Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, they also trained and recruited countless soldiers for an actual war against that power – including Douglass’ two sons, who joined the iconic Massachusetts 54th Regiment.

This war kind of scrambles all categories in our discussion, with its complement of soldiers working directly to address that original sin. Included here are Ambrose Bierce, whose uncle sent guns to Brown before raising two regiments for the war; George Garrison, son of the iconic William Garrison, who volunteered to be one of the white officers leading black soldiers; and Jesse Macy, a Quaker who insisted on active service as a medic. Even the reviled-by-all sides Carpetbagger officers, who went South to try to enforce Lincoln’s promise. count as our dissenters; Given the powerful economic and social forces that had fed the slave economy, those officers were engaged in something intrinsically radical even when working for the President. AnSilas Soule, one of John Brown’s pre-1860 “Jayhawkers” before joining the Union, distinguished himself in 1864with a singular act of rebellion against the first original sin, bydeserting and exposing the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.

The Civil War also highlighted two of our other themes: combat trauma/PTSD, and solidarity between pacifists and fellow soldiers.When Jesse Macy, part of Sherman’s March to the Sea, repeatedly refused to carry a gun, his peers in the XXX had his back POI09U9U89TIUHIUGINPIH. Ambrose Bierce eventually wandered to suicide in Mexico via a tour of old battlefields, long after writing I will willingly surrender an other life than the one that I should have thrown away at ShilohWhat is now called post-traumatic stress disorder has existed for about as long as war has, creating multiple unintended consequences. And if thin paychecks can make a soldier feel betrayed, being ignored, stigmatized or dismissed for their own combat stress can feel like another war.

Hundreds of soldiers broke down after the aforementioned Battle of Shiloh, carried onto hospital ships with a case of what doctors called “nostalgia.” During that war military doctors started tracking soldiers’ breakdowns differently, conceiving of a “soldier’s heart” whose muscle is damaged by the trials of battle — both accurate and prescient, considering current understanding of the complex hormonal and developmental re-wiring contained in PTSD.

The relationship between the military and traumatic stress is a complex one, as noted by experts like Col. David Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Consequences of Learning to Kill on War and SocietySome in this book, like Andrew Jackson, perhaps never got over it but subsumed it into national policy; others turned it all inward, like George Garrison. Bierce (often called“the quintessential, though unrealized, poster boy for PTSD”) was the first to turn combat trauma into art that empowered future dissent.

Many of those listed above crossed over into anti-war figures for the next war, fought far away from home before the wound they’d fought to abate was near healing.

this is joe from gainesville

peacewarhaldOn a Joe Haldeman kick, for reasons perhaps obvious to some of you.

After all, there’s that subtitle on my book, the next stop on my introduction exploration:

From the French and Indian War to the Forever War.

That section of the title has been a shape-shifter. When I first proposed it in 2007 it was “From George Washington to John Murtha,” the latter a tribute to the Pennsylvania congressman and Vietnam veteran who’d just made news by declaring the Iraq war “unsustainable.” Then, it became “From the Boston Massacre to Bradley Manning,” before the latter came out as Chelsea. And there was even a brief period when I replaced Manning with Bowe Bergdahl, who’d spent years as a prisoner of the Taliban after deserting his post in Afghanistan for a range of muddled reasons. But all of those names would date the book before it even came out.

Thus this almost-haiku line, starting with the war we all learned about in school and ending with a phrase coined by another Vietnam veteran and science-fiction writer, Joe Haldeman, and since applied to the current (?) Middle East adventure.

After writing the above, I went looking to see whether the author of the 1974 Forever War was even still alive, and what he’d said about how his weirdly prescient novel had mapped out some of the future. I ended up intherquite the rabbit hole.

He lives in Gainesville, somewhere near our friends and heroes Scott Camil and Camilo Mejia. No one seems to have assembled them, though.Nor have they brought them together with Dexter Filkins, author of that other Forever War. (Ideas for my book launch in FL?)

In this NPR interview ,  Haldeman talks to veterans of many wars about PTSD and how war changes you; in the wonderfully named VICE blog All Fronts,   he contemplates what technologies like 3-D printing may exacerbate our current forever war.

Forever_War_1_Cover-A-MARVANO-600x910Meanwhile, I learn I need to ask my local bestie comic-book shop whether they have this series, now reissued in English.

 

The road to revolution via…Julia Davis?

standing_rock_3The TV cameras are gone now. So are most of the veterans I was tracking and wrote about for Guernica, upon the request of the Standing Rock elders. Everyone knows that last week’s decision was only a battle won, and that the struggle continues: the drilling below Sioux land isn’t even completely stopped, the company having decided that it’s easier to pay fines to the Army Corps of Engineers even at $50,000 a day. But there seems to be a pause in the satyagraha at that location, as everyone regroups.

Me?  I’m still in Philadelphia, musing about the big picture. I told my wife as she left for work, “I’m going to show that the Oceti Sakowin protests all began in Philadelphia.” By Philadelphia I mostly meant Chester native Bayard Rustin, who said long ago:  ““Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable. The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.” And I meant Quakers, who’ve been making trouble since before Philly was founded in 1682.

The thread I’m noticing now traces at least back to Thoreau, who told peers he was “more of a Quaker than anything else, and anti-slavery iconWilliam Lloyd Garrison, a non-Quaker but a fellow traveler like me (I call myself an “aspiring Quaker.”) Garrison, who got his start editing a Quaker anti-slavery newspaper, urged and practiced “nonresistance,” a kind of proactive pacifism based in part on Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience.”

I knew “nonresistance” from how it was used by World War I conscientious objectors like Evan Thomas, but if I’d been an actual historian I’d have known how ubiquitous a term it was among progressive types in the 19th century. It was even global, a favorite word of War of 1812 veteran Leo Tolstoy, who  wrote a letter to America, praising Thoreau and Garrison as pioneering visionaries:

I’d like to ask the American people why they do not “>pay more attention to these voices (hardly to be replaced by those of financial and industrial millionaires, or successful generals and admirals), and continue the good work in which they made such hopeful progress.

 

Tolstoy went on to become a leading exponent of radical Christianity, and a pen pal of a young South African named Mohandas Gandhi.

From Gandhi we can go back to talking about Bayard Rustin, Quaker thanks to his eminent and charismatic grandmother, Julia Davis Rustin.  Julia mentored Rustin as he went to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which had been practicing the Quaker “peace witness” since 1915 and sent Rustin, the FOR’s “youth secretary,” across the country as a “Peace Ambassador.” She visited Rustin in prison when he went there instead of serving in World  War II, and cheered him on when he went in 1948 to India, newly freed by Gandhi’s movement.

 

Rustin arrived in India right after Gandhi died, but he met with many of those who’d helped him perfect the technique they had named satyagraha. The Indian activists admired Rustin’s own nonresistance, including the very first Journey of Reconciliation in 1947. And he came back bursting with ideas about using satyagraha on behalf of African-Americans. Soon, he was crossing the country to talk about how to use nonviolence to fight both militarism and racism.

His workshops were electric, one of its participants said years later. They had “actually talked about the history of nonviolence, the history of Gandhi…Thd whole philosophy of the use of nonviolent direct action to accomplish your goals and your purposes: That really appealed to me.” Once trained, many put it to use trying to integrate lunch counters, restaurants, pools.  From that phase of the civil rights movement to now is too much for one essay, and includes both Philip Berrigan and ACT-UP, which was founded in 1987, a few years before Rustin died. 

I haven’t included anything here about Native American practice of nonresistance, or wondered if any contemporary Native activists have any use for Rustin or the Quakers.  However,  I suspect that this peace might be incomplete without it.

(Photo: Joe Brusky, Flickr.)

The soldier-dissenters at Oceti Sakowin.

https://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2016/12/5/as_thousands_of_vets_descend_on

How could I not be paying attention when #VetStand was happening?

It broke my heart not to trek to Cannonball, North Dakota, as did Col. Ann Wright, Vince Emanuele and so many others. But I did manage to report long-distance for Guernica Magazine: “We Are the Cavalry!” has many voices familiar to this page as well as many more.

That piece doesn’t include my first thoughts as the protests at Standing Rock evolved: that Bayard Rustin would be proud.

Luckily, I’m about to write for Philly’s NPR outlet about that.  A few opening quotes for me, if not the article:

We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers. Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable. The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.”

The second quote is not from Rustin but from Daniel Berrigan, who with his brother Philip took those principles to heart.  NYTimes columnist Eric Martin cited these words in connection to Standing Rock:

Someone, as a strict requirement of sanity and logic, must be willing to say a simple thing: ‘The machine is working badly.’ And if the law of the machine, a law of military and economic profit, enacted by generals and tycoons, must be broken in favor of the needs of man, let the law be broken. Let the machine be turned around, taken apart, built over again.”

By the time this piece is done, Tolstoy. . Berriganand Silas Soule will be side by side.