Who has Reality Winner’s back? We do.

I just got off the phone with Billie Winner-Davis, a clinical social worker in Texas who’s been in the press lately because of her daughter, Reality. Our chat was brief, and stayed away from the facts of Reality’s legal case. I still congratulated her on the support network she’d started in partnership with Courage to Resist.

Happy to talk about her daughter, Winner-Davis described Reality’s early gift for languages,  including teaching herself Arabic back in high school. When she told her parents she might join the military, it was Winner-Davis who contacted the Air Force instead of the Army or Marines, hoping they’d take early advantage of her daughter’s gifts.  “It was all about the languages for Reality,” she said.

realitywinnerThough she ended up working for a contractor after the military, Reality wanted most to travel, Billie added. “She was looking into the International Red Cross or humanitarian organizations, so she could use her skills to help people.”

Ever since Reality’s arrest, making sure she has what she needs has become a full-time job, Winner-Davis added. This is challenging because her work every day, in Child Protective Services, is of necessity all-consuming. But she hopes to retire in August, she said, when she can devote that energy to protecting her own child.

By October, when her trial is set to begin, I’ll have more free time than I do now. I hope to meet Winner-Davis there, as well as my old colleague (and Gulf War character) Jeff Paterson. I don’t know enough about the case to know whether she belongs in this book, but by threatening her with the Espionage Act the government may have put him there.

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.

Should Reality Winner be spending this holiday in federal prison?

I need to learn and write more about this newest target of the Espionage Act, but for today I’m boosting the signal from Courage to Resist, as ever the first to publicly support a dissenting servicemember. The link above also has a petition, urging that charges be dropped.  (Full disclosure: the latter organization is also a supporter of this book via Kickstarter.)

 

WHAT DOES INDEPENDENCE REALLY MEAN TO AMERICANS TODAY? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF FREEDOM?

By Courage to Resist

This 4th of July millions of Americans will be barbecuing, drinking beers and celebrating independence from tyranny. But one young American will not be enjoying her freedom. This young woman sits behind bars for allegedly acting upon her own commitment to stand up for a government free from tyranny.

Reality Leigh Winner is an Air Force veteran and military contractor who has been arrested for allegedly leaking an NSA document to news media. The classified document in question details Russian cyberattacks against a voting machine software company and more than 100 elected officials. This is the most detailed information that has still yet to reach the American public regarding the government’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

Charged under the Espionage Act, which some argue does not sufficiently address needed whistleblower and First Amendment protections, Ms. Winner is now the first criminal leak case of the Trump era. With the White House declaring less than two months ago an imminent crackdown on those who leak classified information, many are concerned that Ms. Winner is a sitting duck in this politically-motivated shooting range. “Espionage Act charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, although conventional leak cases have typically resulted in prison terms of one to three years.”

Held without bail in federal prison since early June, Ms. Winner made her first court appearance this past week for a bond hearing and her court date has now been set for October 23rd. When asked by local news media of the status of his defense strategy Mr. Titus Nichols stated, “At this stage the only thing we have (evidence) is a press release from the deputy attorney general and an application for a search warrant. In all my time as a prosecutor, that’s never been sufficient to either try a case or to even prepare for a case.”

While addressing the dubious political motivations for the aggressive prosecution of Ms. Winner her lawyer stated “My client has no criminal history. She’s a veteran. She served the Air Force for six years but now she’s been pulled into this political windstorm where there’s a much larger debate going on that this administration is choosing not to focus on. Instead of focusing on the question of was Russia involved in interfering with the election, now we’re focusing on the extent of punishment for this low-level government employee.”

A recent video of incarcerated Ms. Winner shows her making use of the prison grounds to practice the yoga poses crow, full wheel and headstand. These are all exercises which can assist one’s focus and gaining a different perspective while managing chaos, fear or inflexibility.

While celebrating our independence this July 4th, let’s also take the time to practice focus and courage. We can ask ourselves what would I do to defend or gain freedom for myself or others? And how can I support and defend those who may seek to do the same?

Reality Leigh Winner (right) with her mother Billie Winner-Davis.

For Reality Winner’s case, she needs widespread, transpartisan public support. Please share this article on social media, or post a photo of yourself with a “I Stand with Reality” sign.

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.

 

Dissentire via souldine: notes toward a new introduction

I know this blog has been unusually silent, even for me. And that I should be writing about/covering Airman Winner, who right now is in federal prison in Augusta, GA facing Espionage Act charges just like Chelsea Manning before her. Or at least about Chelsea herself, now settling in at her Maryland home after her commutation. But things are moving faster than they have been, and I’m devoting most of my writing energy to the final drafts as we move more concretely toward a Veterans Day 2018 publication.

So instead I’m offering  musings toward an introduction – starting with breaking down the book’s title.

I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” It’s the title of one of the signature songs of the 1960s anti-war movement, narrating the history of the United States through the voice of an iconic dissenting soldier. I find myself wishing I could defer to Ochs’ elegant summations: “The young land started growing, the young blood started flowing” for the War of 1812, or “the final mission to the Japanese sky…I saw the cities burning” for World War Two.

For all this powerful poetry, Ochs knew there was much more inside that iconic dissenter’s story. He knew from his own dad, who’d come home broken and abusive after World War II; he knew from the Vietnam veterans who jammed his concerts. He had no idea, of course, of the wars to come, or that his own music would be sung by that iconic soldier in the 21st century.

The term soldier (from souldine, the payment packets given medieval French troops), is often summarized as “A person engaged in military service.” This book identifies as soldiers not only Army personnel but those sworn into the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard; some of that experience may have been brief, but formative in some way that impacted the person’s actions thereafter. Though I include officers here, there’s a class distinction here, as hinted at in the currently official term, “servicemember”: people hired by those in authority to enforce their foreign-policy priorities.

“Soldiers Who Dissent.” What does it mean for such persons to dissent (from Latin dissentire, to think differently)? To express one’s “strong disagreement or dissatisfaction with a decision or opinion supported by those in authority? To do so goes against what we think of as military discipline, and might even be illegal if they’re currently serving.Such dissent usually comes at a price, even for veterans speaking out at tranquil distance from their own service. Nonetheless, such servicemembers’ actions have shaped our history and continue to inhabit that history as it lives and grows. The following pages offer a idiosyncratic guidebook to some of these figures, and how their dissent nudged that arc of  history toward something resembling peace and justice.

Next, of course, that shapeshifter of a final phrase — the one that was “From George Washington to John Murtha,” then “The Boston Massacre to Bradley Manning,” then “to Bowe Bergdahl” for a microsecond. Now, and probably forever, it’s ‘From the French and Indian War to the Forever War.” Stay tuned, honest!

soldier-storytellers, vol. 1

Who counts as the first soldier/vet who dissented mostly through literature? My bet is our old friends Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain. But then I remember Edgar Allan Poe, who dropped out of the University of Virginia and enlisted in the Army as “Edward W. Perry” in 1827.

Private Perry’s” enlistment was not really a natural progression from Poe’s Revolutionary-hero grandfather. His father David, a traveling actor who died when Edgar was two, had already fallen far from that tree. Poe then found himself the stepson of another of Virginia’s old military martinets, John Allan, an old Scot who kept young Poe on a short lease, and yanked hard when the young man dropped out of the university because of his debts. As Poe wrote in an angry letter years later: “It was then that I became dissolute, for how could it be otherwise? I could associate with no students, except those who were in a similar situation with myself.The military was perhaps the only way for Poe to redeem himself in Allan’s eyes, even after he’d fled to Boston and finished Tamerlane his first book of poems. So in May 1827, the 18-year-old enlisted in the First Artillery for a five-year term, using the false name “Edgar A. Perry,” the false age of 22, and the false occupation of “shipping clerk.” That October, his battery was ordered to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina,ii later described in his first hit novel, The Gold Bug:

The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point, and a line of hard, white beach on the sea-coast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle so much prized by the horticulturists of England.

The young man reportedly felt quite at home at Moultrie, where he quickly rose to the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major, the highest rank for a non-commissioned officer. He befriended fellow artists like Thomas Downey, who called himself a “musician” on his enlistment papers, and like him had enlisted as much for the money as for national pride. And a fellow soldier at his next duty station called the young sergeant-major “highly worthy of confidence.”

Poe’s officers included many veterans of the ongoing Indian Wars, right up to General Winfield Scott, who came to South Carolina while still in the middle of the Black Hawk War, and would know before long what it meant to be the target of Poe’s satire.Poe grew bored before his five-year term was up, yearning for a more collegial atmosphere. He decided that West Point could supply it and secured a substitute to serve in his place. As he told Allan: “After nearly 2 years conduct with which no fault could be found — in the army, as a common soldier — I earned, myself, by the most humiliating privations — a Cadet’s warrant which you could have obtained at any time for asking.”

Thomas W. Gibson, Poe’s first West Point roommate, found his fellow occupant of the Barracks to seem older than his 20 years, with a “worn, weary, discontented look, not easily forgotten by those who were intimate with him.” In an essay in 1867, Gibson added that Poe was “easily fretted by any jest at his expense,” and did not discourage swirling rumors that he was the grandson not of David Poe but Benedict Arnold.

Relatively well-liked, Poe was soon tagged as a “January Colt,” unlikely to make it past the winter exams, but his peers looked forward to his sharp poetic chronicles of life at the academy under Thayer. “Poems and squibs of local interest were daily issued from Number 28 and went the round of the Classes,” writes Gibson. In particular, Poe wrote a long screed poking fun at tactics instructor Lt. Joseph Locke, who the poet remembered from his enlisted days:

John Locke was a very great name
Joe Locke was a greater in short;
The former was well known to Fame,
The latter well known to Report.

Better historians and scholars than I will ever be have looked at Poe’s stories and gleaned glimpses of both his military lives. If you have, please tell me in comments about it!

For D-Day anniversary: the voice of one who knows (Updated 6/9)

I Ain't Marchin' Anymore

normandyIMG

I first met Knox Martin two years ago. For one of my first Chelsea Now stories, I wrote about his “Venus” mural on 19th Street and the West Side Highway, since obscured by Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue condominium complex. When I learned Martin, still fighting for his new anti-war mural “Killing the Whales,” was a veteran of Omaha Beach, I knew I had to talk to him for the book; we sat in his Washington Heights apartment, where he showed me the clipping at left – which was the only way his mother knew, in 1945, that her younger son was alive.

Below are some highlights of what he told me, which my paper published that August for the 60th anniversary of the war’s end.

You mirror your dad, pioneer aviator William Knox Martin, in that you’ve embraced both art and science.

Yes. My father’s uncle was putting him…

View original post 1,196 more words

so many ways to try to save Private Manning

1 The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning by Inis Nua Theatre Company (1)I was excited that the Welsh play THE RADICALISATION OF BRADLEY MANNING was coming to town — especially after I learned that it had its premiere at the Clearing Barrel, the GI coffeehouse in Heidelberg. Melding themes of gender identity, the war in Iraq, and Welsh radicalism felt and is a worthy task.

And the performers last night at Philaadelphia’s Inis Nua Theatre, who traded off the role of “Bradley” among them as they shifted eras and roles, were terrific – engaging, comic and tragic by turns. In the photo above,Bradley Manning (Johnny Smith) downloads classified military intelligence while a fellow intelligence officer (David Glover) obliviously works behind him in Inis NuaTheatre Company’s American premiere of The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning by Tim Price. (Photos by Katie Reing)

Private Manning monitors the transfer of files she’s about to leak to Wikileaks -a few minutes before the entire cast shifts gears and dances to Lady Gaga:

Born This Way – LADY GAGA (Official Video) from Oguzhan Can on Vimeo.B

Bits of this video show up on the stage’s monitors that for much of the evening had the Collateral Murder video, as if Gaga could replace the latter: as if someone could find in its joy some healing, some knitting apart of torn selves and torn hearts.

And the entire cast, which up until now had mostly kept their limber bodies pressed into military poses, begins to dance. They surround Manning and help her shed her clothing, until FOB Hammer becomes the most delicious underground dance club imaginable.

I’ll write more lucidly about the play later, but these are the scenes that were still in my head this morning:

  • Manning lies tearfully in hir underwear while a procession of Marine prison guards circle the room, asking loudly whether Detainee was OK. The answer shifts repeatedly.
  • A Welsh middle school social-studies classroom turns metaphor for class warfare, with students rioting and tormenting one another by turns
  • The  basic-training exercise where recruits have to keep emptying their packs, and then race to put everything back together.

The scenes in those years  find most compelling were there, but less memorable onstage. I really wish I’d seen it with an Iraq vet – or with Stephen Funk, who danced to Gaga and Michael Jackson as he enacted a far more powerful version of the same story two years ago.

More later,  as I puzzle out what I actually think – as someone still striving tomake Manning’s story a coherent part of ours.

 

 

 

 

 

The sins we carry: Eric Fair’s CONSEQUENCE

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/472964974/473004679

consequencecoverI pre-ordered this book after seeing an op-ed by its author, and spent the past day and a half tearing through it. The name of his former employer, CACI,had long since been for me code for “detainee abuse,” and I had tried to write an article based on the company’s misdeeds when applying for a business-reporting fellowship for J-school (won by the far more deserving and-kick-ass Moira Herbst).  By then, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ 2004 lawsuit against CACI on behalf of detainees was in the news, and going through the now-familiar paces of wars over classified information and webs of culpability.

The New York Times calls CONSEQUENCE “profoundly unsettling.” I think I can safely say that or those of us for whom the words “Abu Ghraib,”CACI” and even “torture” have become drearily familiar, it’s also quietly mindblowing.

In prose that simultaneously recalls Michael Herr,  Charles Bukowski (the latter for the use of profanity) and Pilgrim’s Progress, Fair’s narrative makes you feel for this young Presbyterian who joins the Army to prepare for a career in law enforcement and ends up an employee of CACI, described by Fair as a mixture of Kafka and the Keystone Kops. But just as the reader is trying to absorb this new picture of CACI, Fair takes you to Abu Ghraib — first the muddy tents that shocked Aidan Delgado, then a moment in the “hard site” we all think we’ve seen.

There’s an aha! moment after CID tries to talk to everyone working in that site and Fair’Bs team realizes by elimination which soldier is about to blow the whistle: Joe Darby, who several months later “the Army will then place in protective custody” after SecDef Rumsfeld publicly thanks him for leaking those damaging Abu Ghraib photos.
I’ve been trying to embed Fair’s interview with Terry Gross above; if that doesn’t work you might want to click on the link and just listen. She gets him talking about the heart condition that almost killed him (for real), his faith journey and so much more.

I, of course, want to ask him different questions. I want to know if he’s ever spoken to a New York attorney named Aidan Delgado, who completed an entire conscientious-objector claim while working at another part of AG, and whether his pastor-wannabe self has touched base with the Brite Divinity School’s Soul Repair Center. He never uses the term “moral injury,” and I’d like to know why. I’d also encourage him to accept the help my friend Joshua Phillips has offered him, since we both see common agonies as described in Joshua’s book about soldiers who’ve tortured, None of Us Were Like This Before.  After reading the latter book, I did wonder about the inner lives of contractors like Fair, and am both glad and deeply sorry to have been so richly answered.

Would also LOVE to curate a discussion among Fair, Delgado and Phillips, in which my words would be the least important.

 

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.

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