Updated: Naser Abdo, who now sullies the name of dissent.

This came up on a Google Image search for "conscientious objector." BIG problem.

I wasn’t the only one sunk when we read through this piece about the guy who almost tried another Fort Hood massacre.  Because he was AWOL, and one of us – someone who could have been me – helped him fill out a conscientious-objector application:

Like the soldier charged with killing 13 people in the shootings, Abdo is Muslim, but he said in an essay obtained by The Associated Press the attacks ran against his beliefs and were “an act of aggression by a man and not by Islam.”

Abdo was approved as a conscientious objector this year, but that status was put on hold after he was charged with possessing child pornography. He went absent without leave from Fort Campbell, Ky., during the July 4 weekend.

On July 3, he tried to purchase a gun at a store near the Kentucky post, according to the company that owns the store. Abdo told an AP reporter a week later that he was concerned about his safety and had considered purchasing a gun for protection, but had not yet done so.

I won’t comment on the child-porn charge except for a heavy sigh. But the rest sent me scurrying to my book, to make sure he wasn’t in it. And as a Muslim, he sullies the name of Muslim dissenters, too – like one guy who is, and who was one of the first:

At the very first wave in February Ghanim Khalil, a young Marine who had already served for four years at the Parris Island supply depot, had found his way to the podium among the 500,000 crammed into the New York City demo to shout that he would resist all efforts to deploy him. After he said his piece, Khalil received a warm hug from David Cline, formerly of the Vietnam-era Oleo Strut, who’d retired from 20 years at the post office and become the full-time President of Veterans for Peace.

The case raises far more pressing issues than my book, of course. GI counselors everywhere are wondering if they could have misjudged someone like Abdo, thinking he might be another dissenter of integrity like Ghanim Khalil.  In one Facebook discussion, Gulf War vet Jeff Paterson, said what most of us feel: “I would rather err occasionally on misreading someone’s future intent than to not help someene who needs it.” Still, it’s hard not to feel  betrayed, and many expressed that in that same discussion.

The mission of the advocates is, of course, somewhat different from mine, and yet the same: to see clearly and tell it with conviction. To the extent that Pfc. Abdo’s actions make it harder for anyone trying that for themselves or someone they know, it hurts us all. I think we need to offer the alternative vision.

Update: Iraq Veterans Against the War has issued a statement about Abdo, which I’m reproducing below. It’s going to take all of us to push back against people’s preconceptions.

Abdo is not now and has never been a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

In August 2010, IVAW supported his application for Conscientious Objector status to reflect our commitment to protecting G.I. Rights for all service members and access to a fair C.O. application process in accordance with Army Regulation 600-43 andDoD Directive 1300.06. In October, IVAW publicized a statement by Abdo condemning Islamophobia. Finally, in November 2010, Abdo offered his support at Ft. Campbell to SPC Jeff Hanks, whose own battle with combat-related trauma earned him the support of IVAW’s Operation Recovery Campaign.

IVAW has not been in contact with Naser Abdo since that time.

As we await additional information on the details of Abdo’s arrest, IVAW reiterates its commitment to non-violence, as outlined in our 2009 Resolution on Non-Violent and Peaceful Actions. Per the organization’s mission, IVAW supports the health and safety of all American troops, and never condones the threat or use of violence against military or civilian establishments or individuals.

Update about the book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some news and a promise

I almost literally crawled under a rock toward the end of the year, in an effort to finally get this book completed. I can now report honestly that it’s almost there. (For a cheat sheet on its ultimate shape, check out my draft introduction at the book’s own site.)

Some  bits and pieces from around here – some more personal than usual:

  • With the book’s delivery in sight (promises, promises, I know, but….), I’m now blogging daily (ditto) at the Ain’t Marching site. Subscribe to its feed if you can so you don’t miss out. Today, for example, I comment on two medical-whistleblower stories, and on the intrepid reporters who’ve been crucial in exposing them.
  • Speaking of intrepid reporters, the unparalleled Jina Moore keeps breaking new ground, and rolling out new features from her work in Liberia (a project of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting).  Check it all out at her new site: this week she has a LONG, smart piece in the Christian Science Monitor Sunday mag, but I’m also intrigued by her older, sly piece on the guy who stole all the lawbooks, citing intellectual-property laws. (He needs some African Stephen James Joyce to give him a spanking.)
  • The web magazine I edit, Women’s Voices for Change, just gave me a taste of what it’s like to be in the magazine world: huge changes, a few layoffs, and a hot new editorial director who’s promised to make it famous. I’ll keep you posted as things proceed.
  • Meanwhile, I’m waiting to see if these folks find my work interesting enough to invite me in and give me hell for a few years. Maybe I won’t have to write more than two books that took Ph.D,-level work without that degree to show for it.

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.)

call it love or call it reason

More flotsam from my life-on-Mars phase:

I didn’t know this video existed, until now. I wish I had a clip of Ochs’ performance at the first Winter Soldier (two years later than this TV appearance) but this is good enough  for now. Knowing that the vets in Detroit heard Ochs’ anthem, just before four days of hearings on war crimes, makes me feel more certain than ever that I chose the right title for the book.

"the illusion that they have rights"

Many people I know, especially veterans (even antiwar vets), have mixed feelings about Lieutenant Ehren Watada, whose trial was blocked today by a federal judge. Some vets saw it as a betrayal of those under his command, others that the war was best resisted from within, For other, including myself, the ambivalence stems from  the way his original decision — as the first Army officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq — was first taken up by (admittedly hard-working and sincere) front groups for front groups for the ossified sectarian left (whose militant rhetoric makes most of us giggle these days). All of which made it harder for many to simply look at what the 27-year-old college and OCS graduate was actually saying, about what he still considers an illegal order. Thank god for non-front groups like CCW and Vets for Peace, from whom I got the news today.

Those of you who’ve checked this page out more than once (why? Please comment, and lemme know!) know I’ve mostly been mired in the previous century, and mostly enmeshed in the lives of the Civil War vets who years later spoke out — opposing the annexation of what would become Watada’s home state, and joining in a grand effort to stop the Philippine War. “It is nothing but a wanton stretch of power. It is
lust for power and greed for land veneered with the tawdriness of false humanity,” wrote one, by then a U.S. senator as well as a survivor of the Battles of Shiloh and Spotsylvania. His sentiment echoes Watada’s, but the quote that gave this post a title is from far earlier, because I think it’s more relevant to what Watada faces next.

The judge in the case, Benjamin Settle, only dismissed three of the five counts against Watada:

Settle barred the military from retrying Watada on charges of missing his redeployment to Iraq, taking part in a news conference and participating in a Veterans for Peace national convention.

But the court did not rule out the possibility that the Army, after considering legal issues, could retry Watada on two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer resulting from his media interviews.

Watada’s attorney sensibly told the press that he hopes to get those charges dropped. That could be done without explicit vindication of Watada’s position. But part of me wants to see that second trial, if only to prove Sylvanus Thayer wrong.

Thayer, the “Father of West Point,” in 1819 blamed a early mutiny at the academy on “the erroneous and unmilitary impressions of the Cadets that they have rights to defend.”

Someone should write a book about soldiers and vets who hold on to that “erroneous” impression. Oh right, I forgot.

Congratulations, Lt. Watada. When can I give you a call?