Happy 45th Anniversary, Daniel Ellsberg — or why he belongs in my book

Ellsberg-Daniel-TruthinMedia.com_I spent a lot of time incorporating the story of the founder of  the Freedom of the Press Foundation into my understanding of the movement to end the Vietnam War, including a brief phone interview of the guy himself about his Marine Corps roots. My editor has now just persuaded me that that his story shouldn’t foreground in my way-too-cramped Vietnam chapter. But today, almost exactly 45 years after a Marine Corps vet finally rocked the world, here’s what I wrote about him. Now you know why I tried,  and why my fantastic ex-colleague Judith Ehrlich followed her landmark CO movie with one about Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg’s Story Mirrors Almost Exactly  That of the Vietnam Anti-War Movement

1963 was  four years after a young State Department operative and ex-Marine named Daniel Ellsberg had visited South Vietnam, tasked with examining “problems with non-nuclear, limited warfare.” Young Ellsberg was already starting to work with the Rand Corporation, helping Washington contemplate the region’s role in the chessboard of global military strategy….

In 1964, as a civilian adviser to the Pentagon, Ellsberg was the one who first received the cable from Tonkin in which naval captain John J. Herrick “said he was under attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats and had opened fire on them. He was in international waters, over sixty miles off the coast of Vietnam.”i The resultant political firestorm led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the first step to all-out war.

By all accounts April 17, 1965, was a perfect spring day, described by Daniel Ellsberg in his memoir Secrets as “blue skies over the cherry blossoms and anti-war banners.” Then still working at the Pentagon, Ellsberg retains sharpened memory of that day because it was also the first weekend he spent with his wife-to-be Patricia Marx, who was covering the protests for her Boston radio program. Quietly dubious about the war he was helping prosecute, Ellsberg carried Marx’ tape deck as they marched, silently agreeing with Joan Baez and the Nation’s I.F. Stone. “I would have been glad if all of this had enough influence to get the bombing stopped and put a lid on our involvement,” he writes. But when it was over, he had to call the Pentagon just to check in.

Ellsberg doesn’t mention that Howard Zinn spoke that day, or that the march portion was led by veterans of the Good War. 

As the year ended, a group of intellectuals and military experts was meeting secretly in Bermuda, convened by former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy and asked to develop some alternatives to more massive bombing. Among the group was Dan Ellsberg, who found quiet common cause with and another veteran as opposed to the war as he: Charles G. Bolte, now executive director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Bolte was newly hired, though he’d known since AVC the endowment’s director Joseph E. Johnson from working together at the United Nations. Ellsberg knew all about Bolte’s status as a wounded veteran, that his role at the Bermuda retreat was largely administrative, and that Bolte needed to be more cautious than he. Still, Ellsberg told me, the older man “was definitely against the war.”

Both Ellsberg and Bolte thought the panel should recommend withdrawal. But the majority simply developed a strategy of enging civilians, “without surrender or a wider war.”i They urged McBundy to reach “hearts and minds.”

Ellsberg went back to the Pentagon and kept hammering on his contribution to Rand’s multi-author history of U.S. policy in Indochina. That 7,000-page document, United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, would later come to be known as the “Pentagon Papers.”

In 1968, the civilian movement partnering the military one had disparate responses to that year’s disorientation. Daniel Ellsberg had returned from 18 months in Vietnam determined to end the war, and was working with Council on Foreign Relations president Charles G. Bolte (of the e World War II-era American Veterans Committee) to try to release the records of the war’s planning.

He was still trying when millions came together a year later for the Vietnam Moratorium:  William Sloane Coffin described the Moratorium as an alternative to the dance of violence playing itself out in Chicago and elsewhere: ““We yearned for a revolution of imagination and compassion. We were convinced nonviolence was more revolutionary than violence.”i Soldiers were far from absent that day: VVAW placed a full-page ad in the New York Times, signed by 1365 current GIs.

In New York on October 15, “a student nurse from Mount Sinai tried to present a handbill to a soldier who was wearing a green beret. He declined it, with a grin, but gave her a peace sign in return. The nurse stopped dead in her tracks. ‘He did it,” she said incredulously. “A Green Beret gave me the peace salute.’”ii

Read aloud at the October 15 march was a letter drafted by Daniel Ellsberg, who was shaken after hearing, at an August anti-draft conference, testimony from William Sloane Coffin protege Randy Kehler. After Koehler asserted how happy he would be to join his fellow draft resisters in prison, Ellsberg “left the auditorium and found a deserted men’s room. I sat on the floor and cried for over an hour, just sobbing.”iii Still on the Rand payroll, Ellsberg had gone back to Washington and began to try to persuade his peers in the establishment, at Rand and the Carnegie, to issue a public statement in favor of ending the war.

Ellsberg had wanted a letter that would urge an end to “the bloody, hopeless, uncompelled, hence surely immoral prolongation of US involvement in this war.” He reached out to Charles G. Bolte at the Endowment. But when Bolte took Ellsberg’s letter to his boss, the latter’s only response was: “We can’t invite Ellsberg to any more of our meetings. He’s lost his objectivity.”iv Nonetheless, Bolte was a signatory to the letter Ellsberg wrote, published in September in the New York Times before it was read aloud at the Moratorium.

By March 12, 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg sat in a borrowed apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was at peace with becoming a prankster.

Across from him was Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, paging through the binders containing the 7,000 pages of US-Vietnam Relations. Sheehan knew that these were highly classified documents, and had consulted his paper’s lawyers before flying into Boston. He and his wife had even registered at the Treadway Inn in Cambridge under assumed names..i

Ellsberg had by then spent close to a year in confidential briefings with antiwar Democrats from Senator Fulbright on down, showing them these pages and finding none willing to blow the whistle, before finally contacting Sheehan.. He reiterated now: “You know you can’t make copies.” Sheehan agreed, and went back to New York to do just that.

Ellsberg then went home and worried, while Sheehan read and verified the documents, writing and consulting again with counsel. On June 13, the Times would publish the first of nine excerpts of the Papers. While the Times never revealed their source, Ellsberg turned himself in on June 30, and was charged under the Espionage Act. In the stream of mail that followed — most of it calling him a “traitor” — Ellsberg was struck and warmed by the supportive letters from fellow Marines, who “had all along hated the job that the Corps had been given.”

The series, the rest of which was famously delayed until the Supreme Court ruled they could be published, showed at the very least that the Pentagon’s confident narrative of the war had been distorted. The message, wailed President Nixon’s chief of staff, was “You can’t trust the government, an idea that damaged America’s “implicit infallibility of presidents.”ii That ‘infallibility’ was already being questioned by the GI resistance movement, which had long ago given up on the authority of their commander-in-chief.

Persuade those twelve people on the jury that Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo were right in what they did.”

On January 27, 1973, the long-awaited Paris Peace Accords were announced, within them an agreement on exchanges of prisoners of war. A few months later, the trial of the man who’d exposed that war as a fraud ended unexpectedly, with due to “government misbehavior.”

Ellsberg’s defenders had come up with a strategy that they thought might work – thanks to Arthur Kinoy, Bill Kunstler’s law partner and CCR co-founder. Legal niceties, Kinoy told the defense team, were not the point when talking to a jury, especially one that included at least one decorated Marine. “You need to do just one thing,” Howard Zinn remembers Kinoy telling him and the others. “Persuade those twelve people on the jury that Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo were right in what they did.i But the jury never even rendered a verdict – the trial was stopped, and all charges dismissed, after it emerged that the Nixon Administration had wiretapped the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in 1971.

On May, 11, 1973, a mistrial was declared; Ellsberg was free to return home, while much of the legal team was expected in Florida for one more trial, that of the Gainesville case. In the latter, the testimony of star witness Arthur Lemmer “left the chief prosecution witness looking like a violence-obsessed, confused, and irrational psychopath”ii . And just as with Ellsberg, as with the Panther 21 trial two years before, all charges were dropped.

iZinn, Moving Train, op. cit., p. 160.

iiNicosia, Home to War, op.cit., p. 208.

iDavid Rudenstine, The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 52.

iiWatergate Tapes, June 14. Via Sheehan.

iWilliam Sloane Coffin, Once to Every Man: A Memoir ( Atheneum, 1977), p. 299.

iiElizabeth Kolbert et al, “Moratorium.” The New Yorker, October 25, 1969, p. 54.

iiiTestimony, PP trial.

ivEllsberg, Secrets, op. cit. p. 283.

iGeorge Herring, “Tet and Prague.” In Carole Fink, Philipp Gassert, Detlef Junker (eds.), 1968, the World Transformed ( Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 36.

iDaniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Penguin, 2003), p.7.

 

In the news today

RWR-CharterMember-FTAarmy9jNot to turn this into a videolog. but with so much to do it’s hard to avoid sometimes — and this is too good not to share.

A new docu about Occupy features one of my favorite VVAW pranksters, Ward Reilly (you saw him in this Fort Meade account a while back). He’s so much of a firecracker now, I can only imagine when he was an infantryman stirring up trouble in 1974.

At left, Reilly’s self-customized dog tag. You know what the acronym stands for.

 

 

 

 

Why Bradley Manning belongs here

WWI_FortMeade I’m already getting assailed for including in my title Bradley Manning, who so many have already branded a traitor — even some vets who are themselves in the book draw the line at what he’s done. But as mesmerized as I am by the case, I’m even more mesmerized by the way it’s galvanized so many people — some soldiers/vets, some civilians like me who’ve internalized that old VVAW slogan “Love the warrior, hate the war.”  It’s why I got my butt onto that Occupy bus and went down to Fort Meade for Manning’s first pretrial hearing more than a year ago.

Here’s what it was like— something I hadn’t put up here because I thought would be the prologue to this book. As I pull my manuscript apart to reshape it, some leaves fall off that might still be worth sharing — and I thought this might explain some things. I’ve posted photos of that weekend on this blog  before, and they’re not hard to find — so the image above is simply that of old Camp Meade, back when it was an army camp instead of the intelligence-HQ Fort Meade. I’m betting that the scene outside the fort last month wasn’t that different from what I described then.

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Fort Meade, MD, December 16, 2011

The morning had already begun to chill as the bus pulled onto Reece Road long past the highway signs that said FORT GENERAL GEORGE MEADE.  Were it not for that sign, it might have seemed a suburban neighborhood like any on the Beltway, streets filled with ranch houses and McMansion where barracks once stood (thanks to the DoD Privatization Initiative). Certainly no sign that this had been, in 1917, one of the first camps built for new troops in 1917, its three infantry divisions processed 400,000 soldiers (as well as 22,000 horses and mules.). Or that seven million had done the same during World War II, including the women telephone operators known as Hello Girls, and certainly no sign of  the Vietnam-era 11th ACRBlackhorse Regiment, which had beginning in 1966 powered the Sheridan tanks arriving in Phu Hoa, South Vietnam with the then-new   Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle.

Those were long-ago days, and all that was left of those huge posts was the intelligence units that had been at their core, now morphed into the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. To look at now, you would have to look hard to find signs of either, until you arrived at the base’s low-profile main gate, where dark-uniformed personnel waved in cars and gestured to the driver of a chartered bus, that had come all he way from New York with members of Occupy Wall Street. Most were twentysomething activists, happy to be plastered with a sticker with a photo of an Army private even younger than they. The group was directed to the lawn in front of the fort, and told it was their “designated protest area today.”

Already on the lawn were reporters sheltering their notepads from the wind shadowing a mix of weathered activists, some young (like the Occupants)  and some who looked like they could have been at Woodstock, including a scattering of veterans from wars spanning three decades. Many wore stickers or held signs with the three words being chanted by the rest: FREE BRADLEY MANNING.

Almost none of holding those signs saying “Free Bradley Manning” had even met the 24-year-old Army private in question, or even seen him. This was definitely true of the thousands of around the world who had written, rallied, or donated toward his defense and the Bradley Manning Support Network. It was even true of those who, either now or elsewhere, had worn the well-circulated mask with a photo of Private Manning’s smiling face and the words “I AM BRADLEY MANNING.” All had their own reasons for doing so, and not all of them about the case itself: some were fuzzy about the details, though all knew that Private Manning was being charged with the largest intelligence leak in 50 years.

For some supporters,  it was enough that Manning’s alleged actions challenged the U.S.’ national-security apparatus. Those opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wowed by the probability that he had leaked footage of an Apache helicopter raid, later nicknamed Collateral Murder. “He saw what needed to be public, and made it so!”  And for most of those from the loosely-termed Occupy Network, it got even morer specific: Manning had allegedly linked diplomatic cables that are often credited with sparking the “Arab Spring”  with  long-suppressed truths about dictators Tunisia,  Yemen, Egypt, The protests in the Arab world had then helped spur the first ‘Occupy’ encampments. “I asked Why? And when I heard ‘Bradley Manning’s trial,’ I said hell yea,” a slim blond woman from Occupy Newark had told this reporter at 5 a.m., before we climbed the bus from New York’s Zuccotti Park.

Aboard that bus was also Captain Lawrence Rockwood, also a whistleblower of sorts, who’d himself been court-martialed back in 1994 when he refused to ignore conditions in Haitian prisons (during Clinton’s Operation Restore Hope). “I haven’t been back here since I was in uniform,” he said before he departed the bus.

A few feet away, talking to a reporter, was Jeff Paterson, who had refused in 1991 to board the plane taking him to the Gulf War, dragged off the tarmac in handcuffs. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he liked to say.

Behind Paterson was former Marine Corps Reserve lieutenant Michael Thurman, 24, who thanks to help from Paterson bore with a brand-new discharge on the grounds of conscientious objection.  “Were you court-martialed?” he was asked by Lt. Dan Choi, not that much older than Thurman  and still in his Army dress blues, though since being expelled for coming out as gay he’d mostly worn his uniform for TV or protests like these.

As morning turned to noon, the Vietnam-era rebel soldiers turned up, first recognizable from afar in their lined faces and graying heads.    A few had gotten up early enough to be allowed into the courtroom, like Nate Goldschlag, who toward the end of that war had founded one of the largest underground GI  newspapers at his German base.

The latter group hugged each other in greeting before holding signs and asking motorists to honk. Colonel Ann Wright, 64, who had quit the State Department in 2003 when war was declared against Iraq, had a voice as girlish as her round blond  face as she led a chant: “Free Bradley Now!”  Beside her was Bill Perry, who decades earlier had testified before TV cameras about atrocities he had seen in Vietnam as an Army sergeant, at a hearing in Detroit known as “Winter Soldier.”

Ward Reilly, his gray hair reaching his shoulders, wore a hand-crafted pendan, made from his mutilated dog tags, reshaped into three letters: FTA (Fuck the Army).  “I was court-martialed four times,” he told Thurman and Capt. Rockwood. “My platoon sergeant wanted to put me away for 20 years. But the platoon was short of good marksmen, we just kept getting sent back to the infantry. During Vietnam,” he explained for the civilians listening, “a prison sentence was kind of a promotion.”  The vets just laughed, in that kind of soldier-solidarity not usually available outside the American Legion.

As the sky darkened, and the air chilled further, the crowd splintered a little — some took breaks in warmer spaces, others huddled together under the Occupy tent.  Thurman went off to the theater that had been set up for remote viewing of the legal proceedings, though he hadn’t gotten admitted to the courtroom. He came back and sad he’d seen Nate Goldschlag stand up and shout “Bradley Manning is a hero!” before being ushered out by military police. Goldschlag was exuberant, only somewhat because he knew his outburst would lead the evening news.  Less exuberant at end of day was Lt. Dan Choi, who said he had been manhandled by security as they escorted him out of the courtroom. “They tore my dress blues!”

Some chapters of Veterans for Peace had brought identifying  banners, including Baltimore’s PHILIP BERRIGAN CHAPTER and the Massachusetts SMEDLEY BUTLER BRIGADE, both bearing names of vets who had famously written against war. In addition to those ghosts, supporting from afar was Daniel Ellsberg, the former Marine whose similarly huge Pentagon Papers had helped end the war in Vietnam, and Scott Olsen of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Occupy Oakland, now famous for being injured by a police tear-gas canister.

For this reporter, there were many other virtual allies at the rogue soldiers’ backs — many elsewhere that day, others long dead.  Major Hugh Thompson, who’d stopped the bloodshed at My Lai. Lt. Silas Soule, who’d done the same during an 1864 massacre against Indians. Evan Thomas, one of the World War I objectors whose tortures were vividly described by poets. As the vigil broke up, everyone knew it wasn’t near over.

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And it isn’t of course. Neither is the trial, which I’ll cover here eventually. I’m making no declarations about his heroism or not: but this is an important moment, in our “post-9/11” world, and these guys are definitely shaping it.

Status report

calendarFor those who might be wondering why this whole project is so overdue.and/or why you DIDN’T see it on the fall catalog for UCPress.

When I started working on this book, its subtitle was Soldiers Who Dissent: From George Washington to John Murtha, the latter name because back then, in 2006,  it wasn’t that long since the late Rep. Murtha first spoke against the war in Iraq.  I was originally scheduled to deliver a manuscript in 2008.

That was, of course, awhile ago.  George W. Bush would still be president. In that time, the U.S. war in Iraq has ended under a new president, who expanded that in Afghanistan and commenced an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers, which is why the subtitle has changed to focus on one such whistleblower — who as I write this is undergoing pre-trial proceedings at Fort Meade.

For most of that time I was also working as a reporter and a Web editor, which limited the time I could devote to the ms. — just as the amount of material I had to cover seemed only to expand. There was a lot to do:

Doing right by the past. Since my explicit focus is on both servicemembers and veterans, the fruits of my reporting showed a far deeper bench of dissenters from earlier eras: rather than the one-big-pre-WWI chapter evinced in the proposal, there’s now five. Even the 1980s deserved their own chapter.

Continue reading

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.)

why I went to New York this week: video

Just a brief note to annotate the video above. Filmmaker David Eric Allen, who I met there, did a good job of conveying the event I was there to witness – the arraignment of 15 young veterans and their supporters   — and even intermixed footage of Monday’s events with that of the moment on October 15 when Nassau County police brought in mounted units, on their horses, to keep unarmed veterans away from the the October 15 presidential debate. Allen also told the vet’s attorney (seen in the clip) that he also has footage of one cop saying: “This is New York –  you have no rights.” I may have found my prologue for the book.

I’ve mentioned many of the defendants here. Kris Goldsmith, who led my Winter Soldier piece, looked simultaneously looser and far more exhausted, while Adam Kokesh was as ever more wired than I am, and I was glad to meet the already-iconic Mathis Chiroux, who seemed taller than the rest in more ways than one.

In other shots you see some of the Vietnam vets who have their backs:  Bill Perry, who works overtime helping New Jersey veterans with, well, everything, and Joe Urgo, who ends the clip by saying “On to Boston!” Survivors of the first Winter Soldier, who have helped midwife the second,  both of the latter present as cheerful uncles, masking the dead-seriousness of this task of stopping a war before it goes on longer than the one that still sometimes claims them.

"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?