Notes from the road: my inner Smedley Butler

womenspa1981This morning, I get to pretend I’m 1/3 my age, when I didn’t think much of getting up early to ride halfway across the world for a good cause. (Above: 18-year-old me in Washington, D.C., at the 1981 Women’s Pentagon Action. I’d traveled there from Binghamton, New York.)

In this case, I’m catching a ride to Augusta, Georgia, with some fervent supporters of Reality Winner. And tomorrow, we’ll be in a courtroom on James Brown Boulevard, while Winner’s defense counsel argues that since the FBI  never informed her last June of her Miranda rights, none of what they learned that day should be admissible in court.

My housemate’s dad, a former Air Force JAG and Vietnam-era veteran,told me this was a law-school exercise, in earlier times. But those were times before the Patriot Act, the revival of Woodrow Wilson’s Espionage Act prosecutions. Before “9/11 changed everything,” meaning that some people lost their danged minds. Before Chelsea Manning could tell me, with a straight face, that she can’t comment on Winner’s case from her own experience, because that experience is now classified.

So is Winner’s experience, apparently, as explained at the Columbia Journalism Review: “Because the court has said her lawyers can only look at news reports containing classified information in secure facilities, they cannot even Google basic news stories from their office or discuss them with their client.”

Since I’m interested in Winner’s AF experience, I asked the PA folks at Fort Gordon if I could come for a tour, to see where she worked before 2015. I was referred in no uncertain terms to the NSA, which has come a long way since people whispered “No Such Agency.” Though it makes sense when you think about what Winner was doing back then:  helping plan drone strikes. I wonder if Winner’s lefty dad made sure she’d seen this video of Smedley Butler, famous for saying “War Is a Racket,” that he had been a servant of empire.

Butler had by then helped prevent a coup against FDR; I’m guessing Reality Winner might have felt a kindred spirit.

Right now, it’s time to summon my inner Marine, as well as that fearless girl who stood in the snow and cried at the Pentagon. More later, i hope.

Before Evan Thomas became an iconic conscientious objector

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.

2008 was the REAL Year of the Woman

From my right-hand sis Elizabeth Willse, a New Year’s hail.

Among the menopausal mamas she hailed were some I’ve not yet noted here:

This week’s  Newsweek Magazine notes that Oprah Winfrey’s influence on the 2008 presidential campaign is still being debated: “She’s denied that Obama is giving her a job, but we know she already has his ear.”

The Audacity of Race: For many, the election of Barack Obama
“was more than a political victory, it was a personal victory.”  But,
as Mattie Francis observes, “We cannot pretend, as I heard some
morning-after political pundits say, that we are ‘a colorblind nation’
at this time in history.  This is a myth.”   Writing for the Point Reyes Light,
she uses her own interracial marriage and motherhood to examine the
questions of race and identity that will color politics, into the new
year and the new presidency.

If ever there is way for a white girl from the Midwest to comprehend not only intellectually but also
viscerally that race is a social construct with no biological basis, it is for her to give birth to a brown baby. Stephan Thernstrom, a professor of history at Harvard University, said that the United States is the only country in the world in which a white mother can give birth to a black child but a black mother cannot give birth to a white child.

Sniffling on the Stairmaster?
A midwinter cold got you coughing
and sneezing?  Although doctors and exercise physiologists are mostly
“stumped” and don’t yet have the final word on exercising with a cold,
Gina Kolata of the New York Times points to studies showing it may be
time to sweat it out.  Instead of languishing on the couch, read about these two studies,
and maybe cinch up your sneakers instead.  One study revealed that having
a cold had no effect on lung function or exercise capacity.  The other
found that, even though exercisers and non-exercisers had symptoms for
the same length of time, those who exercised ‘in some cases, actually
felt better.’

If you’re going to exercise, though, take it easy
until you feel better.  The consensus from the studies seems to be
that, in most cases, exercise will help ease a cold where there’s no
fever or chest congestion.  And you’ll be back to full strength, and
full workouts, in no time.

Modern Love, Modern Healing
It was “déjà vu all over the X-ray screen.”  When Sally Hoskins,
neurobiologist and science educator, was diagnosed with breast cancer
for a second time, she thought she knew what to expect.  She planned to
go it alone, no support group.  She knew the drill.  She thought she
didn’t want the “instant support group” of the other women “all
first-timers” wearing hospital gowns and awaiting their treatments.  Accepting another woman’s offer of a Xanax breaks the ice for a conversation, and, much needed support, Hoskins admits. “Yes, I was buoyed in part by my Xanax-filled water wings. But what
really kept me afloat was the one thing I had mistakenly believed I
could do without: the loving care that flows freely among female
strangers even in short-term groups like this one, established within
minutes and disbanded just as quickly, only to re-form with a whole new cast in the next waiting room, and the next.”

Debra Winger is digging in a little deeper
Debra Winger has taken time away from Hollywood to teach a course at
Harvard, have a baby, write a book, run a farm, and take a handful of
smaller film roles, well away from the public eye.  Now, she’s back, and being interviewed by Rachel Cooke about her small role in “Rachel Getting Married.”  Of the film, Cooke
says: “Rachel Getting Married has won Winger rave reviews – ‘devastating,’ ‘magnificent,’ ‘too long between films’ – for a part you could miss
completely should you succumb to a sudden urge for popcorn.”  Winger plans to keep a sense of perspective, and a strong activist voice as she returns to the screen:

You have to make a concerted effort to keep yourself alive, to be able
to feel pain, to stop yourself from getting distanced from things by
technology. Some 250,000 protestors walked up Broadway to protest the
war in Iraq, and the next day it wasn’t in the papers. But will that
stop me from marching next time? No, I will be counted.”

(Elizabeth W.)