Cadences, voices, and the book’s final chapter

podcast movementThis week, I received in the mail Rosa del Duca’s book Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War. My interest in Rosa’s story is kind of a no-brainer; I’ve been thinking of people like her even before I joined the staff of the Committee for Conscientious Objectors (link is to an archive of the org’s website during my last spring there, before it dissolved after 50+ years and handed its mission to the Center on Conscience and War). The photo on Del Duca’s website even reminds me of myself in those years: Bay Area tan-ish, with gym-toned arms and a wry smile (though I was never as pretty as she). I told the folks at Ooligan Press that I wanted to review it and talk to her, and I will; but right now I need to talk about how I found her, and how this generation of Forever War vets confounds my efforts to end this book.

I discovered del Duca first through her podcast, whose subtitle is Insights from a Modern-Day Conscientious  Objector — to distinguish her, perhaps, from Vietnam-era civilian COs or World War II figures like Desmond Doss (whose biopic Hacksaw Ridge has acquainted many with the whole concept of a military CO). Hers is among a circle of many that has served as my backdrop in recent days.

I’m usually surrounded by the voices of anti-war vets, as the book slouches toward the Bethlehem of publication. But these voices are all in a medium whose power has taken time to dawn on me (a form of radio invented by the iPod).My first podcasts were the usual liberal blather from Slate and the New Yorker, as well as my guilty pleasure West Wing Weekly. My journo friends all got retrained in how to podcast, and certainly the democratic-socialist world where I volunteer is brimming with pods. Which is how, of course,  I tumbled down this rabbit hole: I discovered the DSA Veterans Working Group, which includes some of the most cogent voices from this generation of vets.

@DSAVeterans led me to Joe Kassabian, first to his addictive and powerful memoir The Hooligans of Kandahar; I had to interview Joe then, and he told me about the “anti-war lefty veteran” network of podcasts. Not just Kassabian’s own Lions Led by Donkeys podcast, but the reliably hilarious A Hell of a Way to Die, from Nate Bethea and Francis Horton, or Fortress on a Hill, hosted by Iraq vets Chris Henriksen and Daniel Sjursen. Fortress is where I first heard of Del Duca and learned about her podcast, whose subtitle gives the game away: “Insights from a Modern-Day Conscientious Objector.”

In an upcoming post, I’ll write about each of these, and a few others they’ve turned me on to, such as  Eyes Left, hosted by already-celebrities Spencer Rapone and Mike Prysner. I’ll review/recommend episodes that I find particularly strong, and muse about pods’ connection to organizing and activism. But right this second, I’m wondering whether all these pods are just distracting me from writing that still needs to be done. Or are these forever-war vets helping me think more clearly about my final chapter?

This blog’s Drafts folder is littered with beginnings with titles like “The new generation os soldier-dissenters, wherein I riffed between Reality Winner and

the other drone veterans, who broke their silence to tell truth about the drone program – and who are still traumatized by it. As warfare has changed, the routes for dissent against it change to, some measured in bits and bytes.

Then there’s Will Griffin, who I met at a No Foreign Bases conference and whose Peace Report  has long been an essential source of news about that movement. Will moved to my town last year and is burning up the links offered for dissenting veterans here, including Warrior Writers.

Or the one called “The Forever War’s forever chapter,” about what I’m still doing while we get the rest of the book flat:

Working backwards, from this year to 2001, starts to feel as challenging as the dread Vietnam chapter.

Reality Winner, whose leaks weren’t about war — but who, like Snowden, was deeply affected by watching drone strikes in near-real time.  Will Griffin, the military brat who served in both Iraq and Afpak but flipped 200 degrees after he went to Okinawa for VFP; Griffin also was part of the short-lived Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, and now runs a video-journalism outfit called the Peace Report. Matt Hoh and Rory Fanning, Afghanistan veterans who came out the other side to pursue truth. Chelsea Manning, who contains multitudes (and is now running for Senate.) Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh.

Those post-2008 figures don’t mean I’ve forgotten the earlier wave: Garret Reppenhagen, Stephen Funk, Aidan Delgado, Camilo Mejia, Jon Hutto, Dan Choi, Jennifer Hogg. All of whom I need to touch base with before including them now.

I swore to start every day freewriting for the book, but every sentence instead comes out like a query letter or status report.

 

I wrote those words nearly a year ago, and they’re still true. More so now, with Will’s video blog competing with those podcasts in my ears. And I’m not even talking about the books they’re all publishing, of which del Duca’s is only one. All still teaching me about their wars, and the many across the globe as I write this.

So what war does the chapter cover, anyway?

When I go back to my first “final draft” (the one first submitted to UC Press). I see a final chapter called “The New Winter Soldiers,’ which featured vets featured frequently here, people I’ve now known for over a decade. Though it started with words from elder statesman Philip Berrigan, and with the 2001 day that prompted so many to enlist:

On September 11, I watched appalled as the second tower of the World Trade Center came down. The guards called me out, took me to the lieutenant’s office, shackled and handcuffed me, and took me to solitary. I inquired several times as to why. One guard grunted, ‘Security!’ During twelve days in segregation, no further daylight was provided. One lieutenant came to announce, ‘No phone, no visitors!’ And no stamps. I was locked down ten days before mailing out letters. The result? Limbo-incommunicado.[i] Berrigan told that story to The Progressive after his wife, Liz McAllister, finally learned what the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Elkton, Ohio, had done with him. Berrigan’s detention was not for his own safety but the prison’s: the 77-year-old cleric, veteran of both World War II and a career of serial civil-disobedience, was considered trouble.

Berrigan, fighting in prison the cancer that would soon kill him, was heartened by the demonstrations against what seemed a certain war in Iraq. “The American people are, more and more, making their voices heard against Bush and his warrior clones,” he wrote in the last letter he wrote before he died, six weeks before the massive February 2003 demonstrations against the war. The night before those demonstrations, Coffin echoed Berrigan at Riverside: “It is not a patriotic thing to send our brave men and women into an unjust war. That is not patriotic. If you ask if you are willing to die for your country, you must also ask if you are willing to kill for your country….War is a coward’s escape from the possibility of peace.”

These words from turbulent World War II veteran/priests could have been read as a repudiation of the newest generation of young soldiers, many of whom had joined or rejoined after the towers went down. But it was also an invitation, if one offered more explicitly by Howard Zinn, who knew from Vietnam and his old friend Dan Ellsberg how powerful those younger voices could be. And just as protestors were flooding the streets, one tall young Army sniper was walking into an alternative bookstore in Manitou Springs, Colorado and being told that before going to Iraq, he had to read Zinn’s flagship work A People’s History of the United States.

That sniper was, of course, Garett Reppenhagen, who I met when he was president of Iraq Veterans Against the War and who’s now a coordinator for the VetVoice Foundation. Garett, Stephen Funk and Aidan Delgado are among those I know I want to keep in the chapter, but I don’t really want the book’s narrative to end with the end of the Bush Administration.

This last revision process is reminding me of so many other threads that need to resonate, and for which I am so far unprepared. How can the chapter include mostly White voices, even if their movement is not as multi-racial as the U.S. military? Or am I answering my own question here?

But if this latest dance with the podcasters is teaching me anything, it’s that this generation doesn’t need me to tell their story. They’re telling it every day, in every form of media that exists. It’s my job to put it all in context, and make their part of our story sing.

 

 

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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?

Before Evan Thomas became an iconic conscientious objector

sailorsandsoldiersmonument
The summer before Evan Thomas leaves the country, 1915 smells of war.

The smell sickens Thomas, a lean young man with a narrow face and alert eyes. Thomas hates living and working at the American Parish, the East Harlem immigrant settlement house pastored by his brother Norman. On every newsstand, headlines scream of battles in Europe and news from Mexico, whose unfinished revolution now includes tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors. The parish’s immigrants look on with anxiety: They don’t need English to count the European war’s twelve battle zones.

America is officially neutral in that conflict, unlike New York City. Two weeks ago a German submarine attacked the luxury liner Lusitania, leaving 43 Americans among 1153 dead – including one of New York’s own, the dashing millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt. Both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers call Germans “murderers” and demand vengeance. The city’s boy-mayor calls for “preparedness,” as if it’s possible to be prepared for hell.

Even Union Theological Seminary, where Thomas is pursuing a divinity degree, offers little respite. It clusters next to Columbia University, whose flagpoles urging students to “cherish, love and respect ….] the flag of peace and prosperity.” Both campuses mark the 1779 Battle of Harlem Heights. At the seminary, Thomas’ classmates discuss what “preparedness” will require of them.

On Memorial Day tens of thousands cram onto Riverside Drive, to see the veterans of five conflicts march uptown to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. Elderly Union soldiers and sailors, their uniforms carefully mended for the occasion, march past signs of the city’s growing wealth: At 74th Street, the veterans and some active-duty troops slowed as they passed Riverside, the three-block French castle built by German immigrant and steel magnate Charles Schwab. At the memorial, a Greek marble stand of Corinthian columns, the United Spanish War Veterans salute General Leonard Wood and retired Rear Admiral Sigsbee, who commanded the U.S.S. Maine when it exploded. Thomas doesn’t go across town to watch the spectacle.

A few weeks later, a similar scent suffuses Princeton, when Thomas goes down for his brother’s graduation. The site of both a 1777 battle and the 1781 Mutiny in January, his alma mater has whole rooms honoring alumni on both sides in the Civil War; at the graduation, its president tells the graduating class of the dangers of peace. If they avoid war, he says, they might lose the chance to become real men.Thomas and some fellow alumni, self-named “the Crusaders,” huddle to wonder aloud what that means for them. The group’s founder, also a Union minister, says the choice is clear: Jesus did his best to stop violence, after all. i Thomas squints into the blinding sunlight.

Thanks for the inspiration, Louisa Thomas.  I hope you don’t mind how I reframed the moment you found, and wrote about in  Conscience:Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War.

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.

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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

storytelling as dissent

youngblood-9781501105746_hrYesterday’s War Horse post only spotlit one small share of the vast number of veteran writers and artists, like the one pictured,  charting the forever war. They’re musicians, they’re poets holding incredible slams, they’re winning Pulitzers and National Book Awards.

The current bounty has me thinking about how the presence of such artists forms an arc throughout the history we’re charting — one that likely starts with Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Bierce, continues with e.e. cummings and Lewis Milestone and and busts out after World War II as Randall Jarrell, Joseph Heller, John Huston — until Vietnam givesi us Bill Erhart, Tim O’Brien and so many others (now on my cutting-room floor). If I include journalists and filmmakers to the mix, it becomes a cacophony.

Why the increase? And does the plentitude of stories just release tension, or begin the process of creating dissent as personnel know they’re not alone?

I don’t know if these questions are for trauma studies,military history or English class. But I do think they’re worth tracing. And maybe we can send today’s veteran stars a questionnaire, to find out if Bierce and Jarrell really do whisper in today’s texts.

privateperrypoe