As for that list of officers McCain mentioned…..

Some reporters from this outfit looked more closely at the letter McCain was waving around this week before Congress and the TV cameras, saying the letter had proved that many officers supported the policy. But the average age of the signers was 74, most had never served since 1993, and when asked by the journos quite a few denied signing the letter at all.

But the juiciest part was the,ummm, questionable record of some of the most prominent:

• Rear Adm. Riley Mixson in 1993 received a career-ending letter of censure from then-Navy Secretary John Dalton for involvement in the 1991 Tailhook scandal, during which he failed to take action against allegations of sexual misconduct. According to the New York Times, “Mixson was cited for failing to take action when he saw a woman drink from a dispenser made to look like a rhinoceros’ penis and men shaving women’s legs.”

• Gen. Carl Mundy made several statements in 1993 on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that racial minority soldiers “don’t swim as well” or perform other duties as well as white troops. He also once unilaterally banned married recruits from joining the Marine Corps, a move Defense Secretary Les Aspin rescinded the following week.

• Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle was head of Marine Corps Aviation in the late 1990s, during the design and test phase of the V-22 Osprey. He oversaw cost overruns and allegedly falsified records — all while praising the aircraft. McCorkle now works for and sits on the boards of several companies that manufacture Osprey components.

I wonder if David Mixner has seen this yet, and if the letter’s full exposure might inspire Elaine Donnelly, the old Phyllis Schlafly aide whose organization first published it, to finally close down her tired show. (Maybe she can retire to Florida, where she can make no sense amid people as delusional as she is, like the Scientologists.)

How long does the pain last – forever?

I’m far from the only one to have shared that heartrending New York Times essay by Shannon Meehan, entitled “Constant Wars, Distant Ghosts.”  And perhaps as a result, veterans of all generations raised their voices and became this piece on “War and Conscience.” Some bits that hit the hardest:

As a former World War II combat infantryman, I really appreciated this piece — especially for how well it was written. Sixty-five years later, I still remember the sight of my first enemy corpse (I hadn’t killed him) and the thoughts are still with me of what his death had meant to a family like mine in another country….

—-

I never killed anyone or even fired my weapon in anger. I was trained to do it and I believe I would have done it but who knows for sure when until the moment is upon them? At one time, I agonized over the fact that I did not have “combat vet” on my resume. Thirty five years later, and uncounted reminiscences like Captain Meehan’s, I think maybe I should be grateful that I never had to be in that position.

And one that I’ll be mulling over awhile, from a young woman:

I served in the 1st Cavalry as well and witnessed that which I pray my children never have to. However I like to believe that I returned from Iraq with a higher regard for human life, not an eroded one. Facing your own mortality and living in the shadow of those who did not survive changes a soldier. But not always for the worst. It is so very often assumed that the soldier always comes back broken from their experiences. We may not come back the same but that doesn’t mean that we always come back worse. I am a better parent to my children, a better spouse to my husband but most of all an even more grateful human being because I know what it is like to have lost so very much. I never lost regard for my own life. The deaths of my peers, if anything, instilled in me a greater regard for my life and the promised life that awaited me once I left that hell hole…..

Those voices swirl and debate, but without the animus that keeps me out of most comments sections. Go read the whole thing.

Don’t ask, don’t tell — don’t fight? queer notes from another pacifist for soldiers

Photo: Stephen Voss for The Advocate

I mentioned David Mixner back on Groundhog Day, when, appropriately enough, the Senate held their first-ever hearings on DADT. Now, you can click here to read a longer version of my interviews with him, including one about Sec. Gates’ slow-mo plan for repeal. The money quote, to me:

If Obama had to live by (DADT) regulations, he couldn’t. He couldn’t mention Michelle, the girls. She couldn’t live at the White House, she would get no benefits, and he couldn’t have pictures of them at his desk. He can’t live like that: why the hell does he think we can?

Mixner was less convincing, I thought, when asked about the vexing nexus of pacifism and GI rights. Perhaps he should come to the next GI Rights Network conference this spring. and talk to others for whom that dance is important.

today’s news: gay troops and those less gay

First, via Ben Chitty of Vietnam Veterans Against War, some long-overdue adjustment on the part of the Veterans Administration:

More than 4300 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who were diagnosed in service as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but got low military disability ratings, have won an agreement with the Department of Defense to upgrade those ratings retroactively to 50 percent.

The higher rating will represent an important win for this group of veterans mentally scared by war.  It will mean, from date of discharge, eligibility for disability retirement and access to TRICARE, the military’s triple health insurance option, for the veterans, spouses and dependent children.

I can’t tell you how many young vets I talked to, obviously traumatized, who were fighting tooth and nail (usually with the help of independent veterans’ advocates, by the way) to get their original disability ratings renewed. The above news is, therefore, a welcome return to rationality ——if it’s implemented across the board, in every branch of the gigantic military and VA systems. (G.I. Bill issues, anyone?)

Of course, that wasn’t the big “military story” over the past few days. That belongs to the hearings on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the schizophrenic policy originally pushed by Colin Powell and John McCain (who is still fighting for it). Andrew Sullivan has a good summary here of responses to the hearings, and predicts that once the ban is actually lifted  “it will be a non-event.”

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about DADT lately, revising my 1990’s chapter. I learned anew about Lt. Leonard Matlovich, who first sued for equal treatment in 1975, and how the friendship he developed with Clinton aide David Mixner —”He was an amazing person publicly and privately,”Mixner told me over email. Mixner, also a pacifist who had organized the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium, had met sympathetic vets while working on the McCarthy campaign, which had a VVAW component; John Kerry and the others were “Like all veterans that come back from any war, a range of emotions depending on the person, their experience and the horror of that war.” But meeting Matlovich and the others persuaded him their battle could also be theirs, and he helped Clinton to try to end the gay ban. The result was DADT – in many ways, far worse than its predecessor.

I wasn’t surprised by McCain and others’ resistance to today’s hearings, and almost wish I’d turned on C-SPAN for the train wreck known as Elaine Donnelly. But I was a little stunned by this:

Admiral Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the committee they needed more time to review how to carry out the change in policy, which requires an act of Congress, and predicted some disruption to the armed forces.

MORE study? At last count, there have been at least fifteen major Pentagon studies on homosexual service, some kept secret for years (Google “Crittenden and PERSEREC”) and none of which saw a problem with gay soldiers. Moreover, it’s not considered that revolutionary to talk about it anymore; photogenic folks like Lt. Dan Choi, a latter-day Malkovich of sorts, along with others whose stories are as well-scrubbed and militarist as any proud West Point mom would want.

Why am I so interested in all this, then? if what these folks are fighting for is the right to become the happy enforcers of U.S. military policies?  People who are not stepping away from the cycle of violence but stepping forward and saying “Me too?”

Mostly because (in addition to my admiration of people who volunteer for hard important work) their struggle, up until about now, has thrown fairy dust in the military’s use of an exaggerated, all-heterosexual masculinity to win its wars. Whether that will continue, or what will become of those practices if it doesn’t, is something I guess we’ll all live to see.

Thinking of the first item today, I wonder  if at least having survived these battles gay troops will continue to demand fair treatment —even when it comes to commands calling your combat stress a “pre-existing condition.”

Unstuck in time again, in a good way

It’s been forever, I know. I should have at least updated my other shop’s cheers as Sotomayor became a Justice, especially the soulful essay about how she, a wise Latina herself, felt during that confirmation ceremony. But given the demands of that other shop (go look! Make comments!) and that I’ve been writing the last two chapters of my book simultaneously, I’d made a conscious decision not to blog until I was done. Well, not completely conscious, or else I’d have put up one of those “Gone Fishin”signs.

But last week I finally went to this convention, which I’ve described to friends as “like going to a party where fully half your characters are there to answer the questions you never asked.” Veterans for Peace, founded in the wake of the collapse of the Nuclear Freeze movement, and containing many of the folks I’ve now been writing about for years.It began with a rousing statement from Rep. Donna Edwards (above), who like me isn’t a veteran, but who may as well be: her father was career military, and she remembers when her father was stationed in the Philippines and “if we wanted ice cream, we had to go all the way to  Quezon City” because in military facilities, including the huge Clark Air Force Base,  “all the hangars and freezers were filled” — she choked up — “with the caskets of young men and women who had died in Vietnam.” That told her, she said, “When we ask our young people to sacrifice, it’s our responsibility to get it right.”

I remember when Edwards was “just” the director of the National Network Against Domestic Violence, and we were working together on military issues: that one, like many of the issues jostling in  my brain and this book, was challenge and enriched by the information streaming everywhere last week.

coxMuch was  super-informal, with benefits: e.g. I warned Paul Cox (right), who I’ve known nearly 15 years now, that he was a star of my Vietnam chapter, and as a bonus he let me see and upload some 1969 photos he’d just got hold of.  (They proved what I’d always guessed: he was even more of a babe at age 19 than now.)

ellen_barfieldWRLAfter dropping by the Women’s Caucus — where I also got to check in at the long-pervasive issue of military sexual abuse and homophobia— I got to interview Ellen Barfield (U.S. Army 1977-1981, now on the board of War Resisters League.) Barfield told me about being stationed in 1980 at Camp Humphreys, in South Korea, when her unit and many others were suddenly put on lockdown during the Kwangju Massacre.

barfieldportraitWe were put on high alert; the combat troops were given orders, and up in our unit we started getting riot training.” she told me.  Asked by fellow officers if women should participate, she and other women said hell yeah, we’re soldiers too — but matters never got that far. “That’s as close as I ever came to combat,” Barfield reflects now. “But – it wouldnt have been combat, it would have been killing civilians!” Already a Nation reader who’d been struck by the grinding poverty she saw in Korea, she set about upon leaving the Army to learn more about U.S. involvement in backing up Sung’s repressive government. “People are kept for so long from knowig their history,” she told me.  She learned a lot from members of the then-newborn VFP such as former CIA Asia specialist aideChalmers Johnson and Brian Willson, who’d lost his legs protesting U.S. aid to repressive governments.

plow8bBarfield was soon drawn in by the nuclear-freeze movement, just as Philip Berrigan and the rest of the Plowshares movement were getting arrested  at nuclear plants all over the country: Barfield was soon doing the same at the PANTEX plant near her hometown of Amarillo, Texas, and has been a “soldier for peace” ever since. I learned some of the latter story from a panel on nuclear-weapons issues, where a hikabusha (survivor of Hiroshima) asked through a translator what the  U.S. was doing to teach its children about nuclear weapons.

At panels on The GI Rights Hotline and on active-duty resistance, I learned more about the still-ongoing cases of current resisters such as Agustin Aguayo (above), and of those in exile fighting for asylum, like Andre Shepherd (below), whose German support network includes a woman who’s been doing this work on and off since the Vietnam years.I didn’t think then — but do now as I write this – that if I had stayed at CCCO a mere year longer, I might never have felt able to leave.

Despite the friendliness of the members of Iraq Veterans Against War, though, I was perhaps too shy about the IVAW workshops, fearing they were tired of me already — something I regret and don’t, now.

johnjudgeBecause on my way out of town, I touched base with John Judge — who  has been doing this work literally since I was two years old, including with the G.I. Project of  VFP’s vibrant predecessor. John described for me what he witnessed when  Vietnam Veterans Against the War was  neutralized  by the Red Squad in 1974,  “destroy[ing] the single most visionary and effective peace group in history.”   (I’d already written about these events here, drawn from documentary evidence).

wintersoldier_bannerWhen the RU moved into VVAW’s Chicago headquarters (note the North Vietnamese star at the center of the logo), so did posters and newspapers with appropriately “militant” headlines, such as: VVAW BATTLES V.A. THUGS. A civilian volunteer named John Judge, who watched the transition, was astounded. “Were they really advocating physical violence against medical personnel?”

The transition did, Judge added, have its comic elements: “They came in with these handlebar mustaches and sideburns, like Stalin, and these flannel workshirts.” Romo and his RU peers also told Judge to stop reading a pop history book in his bag, because We only read Marx and Engels here. “I told them, Those books are 150 years old now.” But the new regime also purged any members they deemed not “correct,” which included many who had been working triple time to help the new veterans get what they needed.

The January 1975 issue of THE VETERAN, whose “Vets Fight V.A” article was just before the “Victory to the Indochinese,” was also its last until 1996. The closer RU got to its goals, the more complete the damage to an organization once powerful enough to scare Nixon.

road_from_ar_ramadi_coverThat conversation with John stayed mostly comic/elegiac.  We did touch on the question I’ve since been trying, separately, to sort out: if the same has already begun to happen to IVAW, perhaps under the influence of it outgoing board president Camilo Mejia, the brilliant young scion of Nicaragua’s revolution? I mention the latter fact in full respect; Mejia (with whom I share a literary agent!)  grew up in the fullness of a poet’s revolution, and his father, Carlos, wrote the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s national anthem. His speech last Thursday was compelling, as when he noted that the U.S.’  unfortunate Asian land war had left room for all the democracy movements south of the border.

But my concern was rooted in more than Camilo’s charisma: rumor has it that while I was worrying about ANSWER (Workers’ World Party) and World Can’t Wait (RCP) leeching off the younger group, I was too distracted by their sideshow to see the steady recruitment tactics of this group, only a few years younger than RCP and hipper/younger/jazzier in its presentation.

It’s not a meaningless question: dissenting soldiers are already being marginalized every minute. I hope those rumors are incorrect, but I’m not that optimistic.But my job now is to find out what actually happened, and to tell that story as honestly as I can.

(p.s. Thanks so much to Gerry Condon, whose comment below helped me correct some errors born of hurry and 50 percent humidity. That’s part of what this blog is for.)

Matthis Chiroux gets to the hard stuff

I promised an update to the Hempstead 15, though the first update is that I’ve been spelling Matthis Chiroux’s name wrong all this time and none of my so-called colleagues have bothered to correct me. Mea culpa, sir, and bravo for your fortitude in following in the footsteps of that Fort Hood Three (see my “two photos” post above) and telling the disciplinary panel at Fort Leavenworth what they could do with their deployment order:

I thought of those brave G.I.’s in Vietnam who stood against the system, who worked to prevent the victimization of their brothers and sisters by resisting the continued genocide. Many went to jail. One was shot and killed while trying to escape.

I thought of my brothers and sisters in IVAW. Those who realize the humanity in us all deserves to be respected beyond what the military trained us to think. We are sacred; we are beautiful. We are not killers, we are women and men of dignity and justice.

The ‘government’ tried to rattle me by asking if I’d have objected to simply taking photos, and I told him any act to support an illegal war, from the front lines to a state-side base, was a violation of the Oath of Enlistment.

I took my leave of the witness chair feeling satisfied that everything I had come to say and do had been done, and then Marjorie Cohn walked in!

Prof. Cohn gave the most thorough, detailed, understandable and spot-on breakdown of the illegalities of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve ever heard. She focused on the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg Tribunals, U.S. Federal and Constitutional law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

She spoke with elegance and grace about some very hard subjects, and when the ‘government’ asked if she thought every Soldier in the Army who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or supported the occupations from the states were a party to war crimes, she answered honestly.

Marjorie will always be a hero to me, as well Kathleen Gilberd of the NLG, who has provided me priceless council (sic)  and support since the earliest stages of my resistance.

I had to include that call-out to Kathy Gilberd, one of the quiet muses of my book (and has written one, with Marjorie Cohn, that will end up being invaluable, even though I’ve been following it all).

The video above is of an act I hold above even the courtroom confrontation: Matthis  giving testimony, at Winter Soldier St. Louis, about having used services of sex slaves while in the military, and now realizing that not all war crimes are the kind that leave blood on your hands.

I’d promised this as an update/wrapup to the Hempstead 15 story. Tomorrow I’ll finish up, with some thoughts on the context to their story, and some overtones of the past in current events that have me worried and a bit wearied.

hearting Keith Olbermann one more time

Before it gets too old:  Paul Schindler at Gay City News (one of the hardest-working and most brilliant journos I know) sends this report from the weekend’s Human Rights Campaign dinner, where Keith Olbermann (above) schooled the lawmakers in the room:

In an evening when the governor of New Jersey made his most forceful statement to date in support of marriage equality, the new Senate majority leader in New York State pledged to make gay marriage a reality here, and New York City’s mayor once again promised to lobby the Legislature in Albany to help get that done, the crowd’s heart at the February 7 Human Rights Campaign gala in Manhattan’s Hilton Hotel, it seemed, belonged to a cable television political commentator.

In honoring Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s nightly “Countdown,” with its Ally for Equality Award, HRC took particular note of a “Special Comment” he made about California’s Proposition 8 six days after the election. As Olbermann was poised to take the stage Saturday evening, a clip from that “Special Comment” was replayed to a hearty standing ovation.

The rest of the piece is a must-read: Schindler explains the complexities of gay and progressive  politics with his usual elegance. He also includes video of Majority Leader Malcolm Smith wading into those complexities.