Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Here we go again

The opening discussion here is by way of introduction.

Richard at American Leftist quoted the blog Lenin's Tomb commenting on an exchange between Alexander "More Revolutionary Than Thou" Cockburn and Katha Pollitt.

Cockburn, who thinks that global warming is a hoax perpetrated either by environmentalists to fundraise without offending corporate sponsors (2001 version) or some combination of NASA, the UN, climate modelers, the IPCC, and Al Gore to support nuclear power (2007 version), wrote in Counterpunch in mid-July that "the antiwar movement is pretty much dead" and suggests as a main cause "the lack of solidarity with the Iraqi resistance," unlike the solidarity shown during the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. "In other words," he said, "support their troops."

Pollitt shot back in the pages of The Nation.
With whom, exactly, are we supposed to be showing solidarity? Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia? Shiites massacring their Sunni neighbors? Sunnis killing Shiites? Religious reactionaries who have murdered doctors, professors, working women, Christians, students, hand-holding couples?
She insisted, rightly in my view, that there is a fundamental difference between then and now: "The Sandinistas and the FMLN were far from perfect, but they were leftists." The variegated resistance in Iraq, even Cockburn conceded, is "murky and in some aspects unappetizing to secular progressive coalitions in the West."

Comments on the post at American Leftist were divided; beyond noting that my own contention is that it's not an either/or and that I feel no obligation to embrace the Iraqi resistance in order to condemn the invasion and occupation, I'll leave it to you to check out the whole exchange, including its extension to here, if you're so moved.

I do so because, as I said at the top, that was the introduction.

The subject is the weakness of the antiwar movement. And I say that the real reason that the antiwar movement seems unable to stop the war despite having the support of perhaps two-thirds of the public is that too much of that "movement" is too god damned concerned with its own image. Too god damned concerned with being "respectable," with being seen as "serious," as truly "pro-American." Too god damned concerned with politics over praxis, with positioning over protest. As a result, it has surrendered tactical decisions to the leadership of the Democratic Party and moral leadership to a crew of inside-the-Beltway wannabes both on- and offline who have mocked demonstrations and made Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi the arbiters of the acceptable limits of debate. And that has been a horrendous blunder, both tactically and ethically, with disastrous consequences for Americans and even more - far more - for Iraqis.

A clear example of that kind of "CYA first" attitude was seen just about two weeks ago: In its July 30 issue, The Nation published an article by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian with damning evidence about the conduct of American soldiers in Iraq gathered in testimony from US veterans of that war.
From these collected snapshots a common theme emerged. Fighting in densely populated urban areas has led to the indiscriminate use of force and the deaths at the hands of occupation troops of thousands of innocents.

Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media. The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
A man named Corey Mitchell posted a diary at DailyKos which referred to the article's description of
damning photos of a U.S. Soldier using a spoon to literally scoop out the brains of a dead Iraqi and pretending to eat the gray matter [which] were recently acquired.

Of course, everyone is appropriately appalled and make all claims of disgust and finger-wagging. Research shows, however, that such unacceptable behavior happens more often than the United States military wants you to know.
Mitchell then cited several notorious serial killers and mass murderers who were military veterans before noting that
[a] survey determined that only 25% of all soldiers during [World War II] actually fired their weapons. The main reason cited was that soldiers were more afraid to kill another human being than to be killed. ...

[But due to increasing use of conditioning techniques in military training, b]y the Korean War the percentage of troops that fired their weapons rose to 55%, while by Vietnam it had sky-rocketed to 90%. ...

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Vicki Haddock in a 2006 article entitled The Science of Creating Killers, U.S. soldiers' killing efficiency and coping mechanisms have only "improved."
Mitchell condemned the fact that the military deliberately "undermined [the] moral autonomy" of soldiers, sought to make killing an automatic, emotionless, unthinking response, but did and does nothing to decondition those soldiers when they leave the military, offers them little or no help in making the psychological transition to civilian life. As a result,
[m]any soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, others commit suicide, and still others go on murderous rampages. ...

The newest crop of Charles Whitmans and Jeffrey Dahmers should be prowling our streets any day now - and for many years to come
as a result of the government's failure.

And of course he was immediately and harshly attacked for supposedly branding US soldiers, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, as serial killers. And not just by the right, but by the left as well: The diary collected, according to one commenter on another site, "151 comments, 95% of which criticized or excoriated the author," a fact noted happily as a defense against the claim that "the left hates the troops." Other comments at DKos suggested Mitchell was actually a rightwing troll who posted just so wacko sites like Little Green Footballs could get the screen shot. Mitchell, seeing he was unwanted, deleted the diary. (He changed his mind a few days later and posted it on his own site.)

Meanwhile, John Cole of Balloon Juice, called "a man of integrity" by Armando Llorens at Talk Left, labeled Mitchell "some anonymous wingnut [who] wrote a nasty anti-military screed on DKOS." Llorens, for his part, noted that contrary to Cole, it was Mitchell himself, not DKos, that took down the post, but found it necessary to call Mitchell a "first time diarist with no history at all at daily kos," that is, a stranger, an outsider.

What is the message of all this? What is the collective voice of the "responsible" left saying?

"Oh, no no no! He's not with us! Oh no, no way! Hey, you! Get outta here, you, you, wingnut! You, you, you troop-hater! Scram!"

So fearful are these responsible, these serious, these clear-headed, thinkers of being tainted with even the suggestion of a hint of a possibility of being "anti-troop" that they will cut off, ice out, denounce, anyone who doesn't toe the "support the troops" line. They will do it even if what that someone is saying is that a combination of military training, combat experiences, and lack of mental health services can leave veterans emotionally scarred - and neither the military nor the VA will acknowledge that fact: A recent lawsuit by veterans noted that only 27 of the VA's 1,400 hospitals around the country have in-patient PTSD programs. As I said in my own comment on this,
[y]ou may disagree with [Mitchell's] argument, but to call it hatred of the troops is absurd.

The line Mitchell crossed was a very different one, the line in our current political culture that says any criticism of "the troops," even by implication, is beyond the pale, marks you as an enemy, an outsider, a heretic to be attacked and shunned.
And so he was. Because he was, as another commenter said, "off the reservation."

That, folks, is why the antiwar movement is weak. Because, as I've been saying for years, we spend too much goddam time going "Oh no, they're not with us!" Too much time covering our own asses by collectively kissing the asses of the military and political establishment and staying "on the reservation."

That's why the GOPpers and the rest of the reactionary kill freaks know they can taunt the "antiwar" leaders in Congress about funding the war: If you oppose the war, they say, you can just cut off the money - so why don't you? They know that actually stopping the war, you'll pardon the expression, dead in its tracks is too "radical" for those "leaders" who - again, echoed by a goodly portion of what passes for an "antiwar" community online - equate cutting off funds with being or at least and perhaps worse being labeled as being "anti-troop." (That does not mean, I hasten to add, that no antiwar forces urged precisely that course, i.e., simply refusing pass any appropriation for the war, noting that such action could not be vetoed as there is no legislation to reject. That idea was advocated persistently and strongly by, among others, Armando Llorens. Credit where it's due.)

That's why, in the wake of the play-acted Senate filibuster on a withdrawal motion earlier this month which ended with another failed cloture motion, AP was able to report this without generating, so far as I'm aware, any response from the Big Blogs:
The 52-47 vote fell far short of the 60 needed to advance the legislation and marked the final act in an all-night session that Democrats engineered to dramatize their opposition to the war. ...

Democrats seemed content, having labored overtime to reassure and other anti-war constituents of their commitment....
Democrats seemed content? There was no vote on the motion, no withdrawal of any sort, no date set, the whole staged thing was a complete failure legislatively but Democrats seemed content because they had reassured MoveOn and other anti-war constituents of their "commitment." Their commitment to what, precisely? To positioning for 2008? That seems a hell of a lot more likely than a commitment to ending the brutal carnage in Iraq.

And yes, it is brutal. And brutalizing. These are selections from two different emails received from Iraq by journalist Dahr Jamail, who wrote about his feeling of being back in the US on TomDispatch on July 17:
[1] I called my cousin in the al-Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad to check if they are still alive. She is in her sixties and her husband is about seventy. She burst into tears, begging me to pray to God to take their lives away soon so they don't have to go through all this agony. She told me that, with no electricity, it is impossible to go to sleep when it is 40 degrees Celsius [104 degrees Fahrenheit] unless they get really tired after midnight. Her husband leaves the doors open because they are afraid that the American and Iraqi troops will bomb the doors if they don't respond from first door knock during searching raids. Leaving the doors open is another terror story after the attack of the troops' vicious dogs on a ten-month old baby, tearing him apart and eating him in the same neighborhood just a few days ago. The troops let the dogs attack civilians. The dogs bite them and terrify the kids with their angry red eyes in the middle of the night. So, as you can see my dear Gerri, we don't have only one Abu Ghraib with torturing dogs, we have thousands of Abu Ghraibs all over Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

[2] Today I went to the morgue. I saw horrible things there. I didn't see [H's] photo among them. Some figures cannot be easily recognized because of the blood or the face is terribly deformed. I saw also only heads; those who were slayed, it's unbelievable. Tomorrow, we will have another visit to make sure again. In your country, when somebody wants to go to the morgue, he may naturally see two or, say, three or four bodies. For us, I saw hundreds today. Every month, the municipality buries those who are not recognized by their families because of the capacity of the morgue. Imagine!
Imagination hardly reaches to what people live with in Iraq, conditions not only of violence and fear, but of deprivation. A new report by Oxfam International, released Monday, finds that four million Iraqis – 15% of the population - are in "dire need" of food; 70% of Iraqis are without adequate water supplies; 28% of Iraqi children are malnourished and a truly shocking 92% of them suffer learning problems, mostly due, Oxfam says, to the climate of fear; and more than four million Iraqis have been forced from their homes with more than two million people displaced inside Iraq and two million more refugeed, mostly in Syria and Jordan. (The full Oxfam report, in .pdf format, is at this link.)

Brutality. Deprivation. Fear. That's what we have worsened where we have not created it. And that's what most of our so-called "antiwar" movement seems content to continue, albeit at some lower level, for who knows how much longer as Harry Reid pushes "withdrawal" motions like the one in that overnight pose-fest which would withdraw troop by next spring
with the exception of a residual force to fight terrorists, train Iraqis and protect U.S. personnel and possessions. ...

Democrats have provided no estimates on how many thousands, or even tens of thousands, of troops would be required to fulfill those missions. [Emphasis added.]
The "withdrawal" bill in the House added Iraqi border security to that list of tasks to be undertaken by US troops after this supposed withdrawal. I don't know about you, but I don't feel the least bit "reassured." Or the least bit impressed with a "movement" that allows itself to be cast as satisfied with such half-measures, if "half" is not overstating the case, while twitching with trepidation over fears of what it might be called unless it casts out anyone who goes "off the reservation" defined, in effect, by Democrats more concerned with how it looks than with what it does.

This is just so flaming stupid it's hard for me to comprehend. They should not be setting our agenda on the war, we should be setting theirs and "reassuring" us should be regarded as another word for a failure to act and a failure of nerve. Screw "respectability." Screw "seriousness." Screw "a seat at the table." And screw right down through the floor the fear that drives us to attack and isolate our own real and potential comrades because some right wing flakes and their media hack ass-lickers call them names.

We have been down this path before, oh so frustratingly many times, and the result is always the same: a weakened movement for peace, for justice, for whatever, without ever accomplishing the supposed goal of political strength through "moderation." I say again, as I have said before,
acquiescence is not an answer. ... Most of all, slicing away your friends and supporters will not help you. Spending time and energy going "oh, no, no, no, I'm not one of them" only narrows your base, reduces your potential support, and will not satisfy your attackers.
So why why why WHY do we keep doing it? Why do we attack the Corey Mitchells? Why do we, despite all the evidence of crimes committed by US soldiers in Iraq, why do we jump into CYA mode and reflexively denounce those who dare to speak that unpleasant truth and face what militarism, what war, does do and has done to all involved? Why after all this time do we still fail to realize that, as I have declared God knows how many times,
the movement for peace and social justice in this country has been at its strongest and most influential when it has spoken the truth without giving a flying damn if anyone was "offended" or not.
A lesson that we have not, that we seemingly have refused to, learn. Instead, we tie ourselves to what is in fact the more conservative portion of the opposition to the Iraq war - even to the point of fawning over Ron Paul - in order to prove our "reasonable," our "centrist," our "serious" credentials. That is our weakness. That is the source of our ineffectiveness. That is our failure. Not refusing to "show solidarity" with the Iraqi resistance. Not refusing to "support their troops." Not refusing to endorse even by implication IEDs, sectarian murder, and purveyors of the most reactionary forms of sharia law. But rather our fearful failure to speak the truth as we know it and to embrace those who speak those truths, especially when they are unpopular ones.

Acquiescence is not an answer. Slicing away your friends and supporters will not help you. Until we learn those simple truths, we will continue to wonder at our frustration as the war drags on.

Footnote: As another poster on his blog noted, Mitchell was vindicated a few days later when a commission headed by Bob Dole and Donna Shalala - pretty establishment, there - reported that the VA had made inadequate efforts to address post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended the agency be required to give it more attention.

Meanwhile, that same poster informed us, the LA Times reported on July 24 that
[a] recent report by a special Pentagon task force found that 38% of soldiers and 50% of National Guard members coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan have mental health issues, ranging from stress disorder to brain injuries.
Yeah, I'd call that some serious measure of vindication.

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