Gratitude

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Sometimes, it snows all day, and the world turns pure, for just a while, unsoiled and untrammeled.  Usually when I least expect it, someone, or something, will surprise me with an amazing blessing.  Sometimes, I get to share a laugh with complete strangers, sometimes complete strangers help me out in a time of need.  Sometimes, people give me the gift of complete honesty, and sometimes I get to give them the gift of whatever I currently have to offer, even if that is only the willingness to listen.  Sometimes, I hit the perfect line on the river, or the mountain, or the single-track, and daily I am amazed by the perfection in my children’s laughter. Sometimes, I hear amazing stories of people simply doing the right thing, the honest thing, the kind thing.  Sometimes, I think we will rise above the chaos around us, because I see moments when it happens in both big and small ways.

How often do I forget that?  How often do I get wrapped up in the negative perspective so many would wish me to have on the world?  Far too often.  I have to remind myself everyday to be grateful.  Grateful for the peace I have in my home, even if it is messy and chaotic most of the time.  Grateful for the family and friends that I am fortunate to be surrounded with.  Grateful that I don’t have to fear for a loved one in combat.  Grateful that I don’t have to worry about my home being bombed, or demolished.  Grateful that I have food to put on the table.  Grateful that, in spite of all the horrible things I know exist in our world, I still believe in the goodness of most of humanity on this planet.

Because, I know, and I have seen, the love and compassion that we have, and can share, with each other.  I have seen how we can stand up and support each other.  I have seen how we can overcome the divisions that our leaders and media have tried to create in us.  I have seen how we can come together to work for solutions to problems that face us.

So, here we find ourselves in the midst of another holiday season, and the world is once again dipping it’s toes into the pool of world conflict.  We are being led to believe that everyone around us might be our enemy.  We are being led to believe that we are divided, simply because we adhere to a different faith, or we live in a different place, or the color of our skin is different.  And I say, no more!  We have to stop letting the powers that be control our feelings, our actions, our love and kindness for each other.  After all, what power would they have, if they can no longer keep us in fear of each other?

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A Conversation With Doug Rawlings, Part Two

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This is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

SeekingRedress (SR): You say, “the Vietnamese people suffered greatly at our hands. Millions lost their lives, hundreds of thousands still suffer from the ravages of Agent Orange and unexploded ordinance just waiting to be touched and set off.” This really hits me hard, for several reasons. One is that I have been reading about and researching the Hmong people of Laos since high school, the effects of our war on them and their own refugee crisis that happened when we left SE Asia. And, of course, we are facing a new refugee crisis in the middle east and Europe, and since the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, this has become a raging debate here in the US. There seems to be so little compassion for these people that suffer from our military interventions. Why do you think that is? How can we address it?

Doug Rawlings (DR): I think one of the weaknesses of our culture can be found in an educational system and a religious milieu that does not nourish empathy in our young people and certainly in all generations. I believe we are born with empathy—the capability of putting ourselves in another’s shoes—but that capability has to be worked on, allowed to mature, and then be nourished throughout our lives. Then we could indeed imagine what it must be like for Syrian mothers and fathers, fleeing war torn areas, as they struggle to protect their children.
Of course, another reason is the obvious one—very few US citizens have ever witnessed war as the victims of prolonged bombing campaigns. So it takes education, especially provided by veterans, to nudge Americans into a frame of mind that actually includes others rather than just themselves and their families. (Emphasis added.)
I am also currently under the influence of Naomi Klein’s recent book, “This Changes Everything” that ties self-serving corporate capitalism to the devastation of our global environment while also impoverishing large swaths of people. She points out that the US military that is often employed to protect the interests of ‘extractivist’ corporations is the largest polluter in the world. So we as a people, as US citizens, must work locally, as well as globally, to lessen our negative impact on the world. Finally, I urge all citizens to volunteer their services at their local VA hospitals, to witness firsthand, some of the damage done by war, but also to actively help in the healing process. Compassion can begin at home and then widen out from there..

SR: During the war in Vietnam, America saw huge protest movements. In the run up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, we again saw a wave of protests. But it has been largely silent since. Why do you think that is? What do you think it will take to pull Americans together to stop this increasing militarism and corruption of our current leaders?

DR: I think that for some reason Americans have lost the capacity to become engaged in a social movement for an extended period of time. Think of the movements of the past—the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights activists, the anti-war activists, the feminists, the nuclear war resisters, etc. I do have hope that real concerns for the environment are galvanizing people to act and that their actions will indeed build into a movement that politicians cannot ignore. I have to say, though, that the current two party system in this country does not inspire me—mainly because both parties are deeply beholden to corporate interests. What scared ‘the man’ during the Occupy Movement was the whiff they got of the counter-culture movement that rose up during the sixties. People involved in these movements just took themselves completely out of the system and created their own lives, lives that were full and satisfying. It took the popular media years to co-opt that pulse in American life back in the sixties. I also believe in the social equivalent of evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of punctuated equilibrium. He used the notion to explain that evolution is not a gradual process but a process that involves real spikes and valleys. So just when it looks like our society is doomed, I hope an uprising will take place to change everything. We just have to keep working to have that uprising take place non-violently. As far as we in VFP (Veterans For Peace) go, I think our major contribution might be in convincing rank and file soldiers that they do not have to participate in the corporate militarism wracking this world. I think there have been tens of thousands of soldiers applying for conscientious status since 9/11. There are also countless deserters from the military floating around, looking for a moral anchor, whom we can help and protect. Finally, I think we can pull together when we wake up to the plantation system we are currently serving—we do not have to be violent, nor do we have to sacrifice the good life—we just have to work together communally and locally welcome others into our communities who share our values. Gandhi knew that the most powerful tool to thwart colonialism was to disengage with it completely. We can work on doing the same with corporatism. (Emphasis added)

SR: What do you think is driving us into this increasing militarism? This constant state of war?

DR: Our fear that our current level of over-consumption will be threatened and taken away from us. Add in a touch of good old American ‘exceptionalism’ and you have a lethal mixture. And, of course, don’t underestimate the power of the advertising industry. I have to admit to being an avid football fan, so I weekly expose myself to the rant and militaristic glorification that surrounds these games. Note: a recommended read is the novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. The author nails it in this book. We cannot allow ourselves to be manipulated by this “soma.” (see Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.)
So, look at this vicious cycle—our imperial military (really, we are in the belly of an empire) needs oil to fuel its grand machine, so it must guarantee that oil reserves are protected, so it must occupy other countries to ensure that the flow continues. And now that technology allows us to send in robots (i.e., drones) so that our young soldiers are kept out of harm’s way for the most part, we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our whiz bang wizardry. For a while. But the chickens will come home to roost—suicide bombers with nothing to lose because we have destroyed their futures. And, of course, the threat of such terrorism fuels even further the fear that war mongers (and munitions makers) use to keep people at bay. Here’s a related poem:

On War Memorials

Corporate America
be forewarned:
We* are your karma
We are your Orion
rising in the night sky
We are the scorpion
in your jackboot

Corporate America
be forewarned:
We will not buy
your bloody parades anymore
We refuse your worthless praise
We spit on
your war memorials

Corporate America
be forewarned:
We will not feed you
our bodies
our minds
our children
anymore

Corporate America
be forewarned:
If we have our way
(and we will)
the real war memorials
will rise
from your ashes

*The ‘we’ in this poem are Vietnam veterans and their friends who believe war is immoral, unjust, and plain stupid.

SR: The final two paragraphs of your essay are really powerful to me:

It deeply saddens me to see that our nation’s self-perpetuating war machine is cranked up and once again running in high gear. Here in 21st century America, there is an insidious, self-serving faux adulation at play, one that has been fed on steroids, to turn every soldier automatically into a “hero,” so every poor soul coming back from his or her war (and, oh yes, we do own those wars) can’t even cuddle up with a loved one and speak the truths of his or her experience for fear of tarnishing the thread-worn mantle of hometown hero.
This is by design. Unscrupulous politicians use returning veterans as the emotional equivalent of human shields to deflect the public’s frustration with disastrous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Heaven forbid if these new veterans would ever join us old namvets and stop the palaver about valor and heroics for a moment to acknowledge the grotesqueries of war. Think of how the munitions factories and war colleges would all have to shut their doors. And people would have to publicly thank teachers, nurses, doctors, maintenance workers, police officers for their service. Imagine that.

You’ve already mentioned some things, but can you offer some solutions, some ideas, of things that we can all do in our day to day lives to end our support of the corporations (“munitions makers”) and politicians who are running our country right now?

DR: We have to accept more personal responsibility for our actions and become more educated, more conscious of how our lifestyles impact others. Klein talks about ‘sacrifice zones’ in her remarkable book—i.e., for most of the privileges and luxuries we enjoy in the western world, a group of people have been forced to ‘sacrifice’ their comforts and their lifestyles to accommodate our rapacious corporations. As Marine General Smedley Butler, two time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, remarked: “war is a racket” whereby the military protects the corporations. In addition to that, we have become a nation whose economy is dependent on war manufacturing. For example, we have become the number one exporter of small arms. As we collectively wring our hands about the slaughter of innocents around the world, we should take a moment to see where the weapons the so-called terrorists are using are made. So what we can do is look for weapons manufacturers in our states and begin encouraging them to shift their production from weapons to infrastructure projects. That is not as far fetched as it might seem—military contracts are notoriously fickle and most war production is not as labor-intensive as infrastructure production. So an economic shift to peacetime production could be a win/win situation for everyone. We just have to do our research and then make a commitment to maintain pressure on local and state politicians.

SR: We are approaching the 2016 election. Do you see a solution there?

DR: I waver back and forth. Most of the time I am fed up with both parties—the Republicans have become a dangerous joke, and Bernie sounds good most of the time but then his support of Israel and some military adventures causes me pause. And Hillary is a real war hawk who scares me. Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party is the most competent and politically savvy of the bunch, but she doesn’t stand a chance with the system we now have in place. So I think we need to work on local and state politicians to push back against the militarists. When it comes to the actual election day, I will probably vote for the candidate who is not a Republican because I can’t contribute to letting any one of those clowns win the day.

SR: I am really concerned about the things we are taught, and not taught, about history today. You are currently involved in a project that is addressing the way the historical narrative about the war in Vietnam is portrayed. Will you tell me a little bit about Vietnam Full Disclosure?

DR: Thanks for asking. Unfortunately President Obama has dedicated $65 million for a Pentagon scheme to “commemorate” a series of fifty year anniversaries over the next decade focusing on the Vietnam War. The Pentagon purports to be the ultimate source for young people to turn to if they are studying the war. We have found their website to be woefully inadequate, mainly because it provides only a superficial context for most events, pretty much ignores the plight of the Southeast Asian people caught up in our war, and almost completely ignores the significance of the anti-war movement. We are convinced that their motives are not to be purely educational, but that they want to sugarcoat this war and make it more palatable for young Americans so that it loses its significance as a real “canary in the mine” (as in, “look what happens when we bring our military into a civil war, when we choose to side with the over-reaching landlords, when we sacrifice our own young soldiers in an immoral war”). We believe their intent is to put this war in what they consider to be its rightful place, so that they can wage more wars like it. And the insidious part of this enterprise is that they are couching their efforts in the terms that make it sound as if they are finally giving us Vietnam veterans our due. Hogwash. So we have mounted our own website at vietnamfulldisclosure.org  as a resource. We have developed our own timeline, and asked for articles, art, music, personal narratives, and historical accounts to flesh out what that war was really like. And we pay special attention to the Southeast Asian perspectives as well. Finally, we have put together a series of teach-ins around the country and will continue to do so for the next decade. We would love to collaborate with high schools and colleges in this endeavor.

SR: I love this. I encourage everyone to check out this website, and to share this! I’ll be looking into the teach ins more, and the idea of working with schools, because I think its critical RIGHT NOW to make our youth aware of the truth about war, since they are inheriting this increasingly scary mess.
Are there any current or upcoming events you would like to bring to my attention, that I can share with readers? Also, is there somewhere you would like to direct us to see more of your writing?

DR: Well, one event that holds a special place in my heart is our annual Memorial Day letter writing campaign. Last year we sent out a request for people to write a letter to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. (The Wall). We asked them to speak directly to the names on the memorial. We received 151 letters and 32 postcards, each expressing a heartfelt response to the war. Some were written by medics who directed their pain towards those on The Wall whom they could not save; some were written by the children of veterans; some were written by military deserters who fled the US rather than serve in the war; some were written by conscientious objectors; some were written by partners of those who died. Almost all of the letters shared one theme—the authors were deeply dismayed by the futility of that war. In any event, on Memorial Day, we placed those letters and postcards at the foot of The Wall and encouraged passers-by to read them. We witnessed some very moving encounters with these words. Then, a few weeks later the National Park Service contacted us and asked to put some of the letters on display. So, we will be asking for a thousand more letters this year—please write one.
By the way, if anyone is interested in my poetry, I have two collections published—Orion Rising and A G.I. In America—that can be purchased through Lulu.com. (Just go to their bookstore and then to their poetry section and put in my name.

SR: I am just going to include the link here.
Again, I want to thank you, this means so much to me to be able to share your thoughts and ideas. And some of your poems, which I find to be so honest and moving. I sincerely hope that people will consider what you’ve said, and spread the word!  Here is one more of your poems, which I think says a lot:

Unexploded Ordnance: A Ballad

for Chuck and the thousands of Vietnamese who are working to undo what we have done.

So I was maybe all of twenty-one
when they whipped me
into some kind of soul-less shape
Yet another one of America’s
weeping mothers’ sons
Sent forth into this world
to raze, pillage, and rape

And now it’s coming on
to another Christmas Eve
And songs of joy and peace
fill up our little town
How I ask myself
could I possibly believe
I could do what I did
and not reap what I had sown

In that land far away
from what I call home
A grandfather leads
his granddaughter by the hand
Into a field where we did
what had to be done

They trip into a searing heat
brighter than a thousand suns

 

A Conversation With Doug Rawlings, a Co-Founder of Veterans For Peace-Part One

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I was poking around the internet a little while ago, reading and exploring new sites, when I came across an essay written by Doug Rawlings entitled “Don’t Thank Me For My Service,” published on The Indypendent site on April 9th, 2015. I was moved by what he had to say in that essay, and as a co-founder of Veterans For Peace, I thought Mr. Rawlings might have some interesting things to say about encouraging more veterans to speak out against the wars. I thought he might have some interesting things to say about the increasing war mongering and corruption we are seeing in our government, and some ways we can put a stop to it. So I reached out to Mr. Rawlings, and I was right, he does have many interesting things to say. I am so grateful to Mr. Rawlings for taking the time to consider and answer my questions, and for allowing me to share them here.

SeekingRedress (SR): You were drafted into the Army and served in Vietnam. Since then, you co-founded Veterans For Peace (VFP), and I’m sure you have interacted with many veterans over the years. What encouraged you to speak out? What do you think is the most difficult thing about speaking out against our wars as someone who has served in them?

Doug Rawlings (DR): I should begin this process with a few disclaimers of sorts. First off, I have found that the task of crafting poems from my experiences has proven to be therapeutic for me. The key, though, is if a poem not only “works” for me but also works for the reader. And that’s the cutting edge where therapeutic scribblings become more than that, where they become a form of art, where they become poems. I tend to think of poetry as a valid means of communication on a regular basis, not merely some artifact to occupy a dusty corner of some bookshelf. I use poetry a lot. So to answer the question “what encouraged you to speak out,” let me offer this poem…

Bicentennial Poem: Autumn 1976

My daughter is two now
and can almost
speak in complete sentences
Why, if this were seven years ago
and she Vietnamese

She would almost
be old enough
to sell her mother

This captures for me some of the reasons why I chose to use my military experience as a tool, if you will, to educate all of us of the complexities of war. I “served” on a landing zone and a fire base in the central highlands of Vietnam with the 7/15th artillery, attached to the 173rd Airborne. Since the village of Bong Son was off limits, we were supposed to remain behind our concertina wire and sand bags unless we were setting out on convoys to other fire bases. Yet every day village children and mama sans would venture up to the wire to try and sell us stuff, or just out of curiosity. Although at the time, I was unmarried and not a father, something in me stirred when I looked at little kids who were scared of me and whose eyes seemed so sad. Then, when I had children of my own, a daughter and a son, I really became aware of the wonder and joy that we took away from those Vietnamese children years ago. So when I joined with four other veterans to form Veterans For Peace in 1985, I was really motivated by my concerns for children in Central America who were then suffering under the same abusive forces let loose when we engage in war. Here is what I wrote in 1985:

Fifteen years ago I survived that latest, crazy forgotten war of ours. And for a long time I was more or less satisfied with that. After all, survival was better than the other alternative I witnessed in Southeast Asia, that some of you witnessed on the six o’clock news, and that our children catch glimpses of in their distorted text books. But now I have children of my own. Beautiful, happy children. And I remember the faces of other so-called ‘survivors’: the five year old Vietnamese girls selling their mothers; the ten-year-old ‘dump boys’ who scrounged for our garbage by day and snaked through our barbed wire by night; and now the faces of Central American children surviving yet another onslaught of our mindless, blood-soaked technology. Survival may have been good enough for me fifteen years ago, but it is not enough for my children-or yours. It is not enough for the children of El Salvador, for the children of Nicaragua, for the children of Honduras, or for the children of Guatemala. It is not enough.
As a veteran, then, I feel a specific obligation to bring back old memories, to rekindle anguish and despair long buried, and to speak out against this military madness that has so grotesquely distorted our past, that is tearing apart our present, and that threatens to extinguish our future. We, as veterans, as survivors, should ask for…DEMAND…more than survival for the children of the world.
A group such as Veterans For Peace can offer us, veterans of war, a vehicle to bring our special message to the children of the world. Together we can work for a world where there will be no more war memorials. It is the least—and the most—we can do.

SR: What do you think is the most difficult thing about speaking out against our wars as someone who has served in them?

DR: As you well know, this is a complex issue. Trust me, Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day are two very difficult times for those of us in VFP who are determined to use our military experience to counter militarism and war itself. The dilemma is this for me: in some sense I do want to be acknowledged for having had a period of my life wrested away from me and having been put into harm’s way. On the other hand, I am not proud for having contributed to the suffering of the Vietnamese people. But I do have an obligation not to shrink from self-analysis, from looking into the mirror, no matter how dark it gets. That process has led me to the conclusion that the most difficult self-revelatory hurdle to leap involves coming to terms with betrayal. No matter if you joined the military out of some genuine patriotic fervor or if you were led into it because you lacked the moral fiber to resist induction, you have to admit that you were duped. You were susceptible to what the poet, Robert Bly, refers to as ‘…Americans’ fantastic capacity for aggression and self-delusion…’ And, unfortunately, not only do you pay the price for such self-delusion, but those who came before your weaponry and your instinct to survive at all costs, pay in spades. So here are another two poems about Veteran’s Day that I have written over the past two years:

November Comes

November comes on to me like a C-130
slinking into Dover Air Force base
laden with tin caskets
draped in red, white, and blue

I know. I know
I should just
let it be

Okay.
I can still do this:
push my shopping cart down
the local IGA’s aisles
pick up cheese and wine and crackers
while avoiding aluminum cans
like the plague
pay the cashier
smile at the bagger
push the cart out into the parking lot
neatly place everything I just bought

into the dumpster out back

light up a smoke
relax

Sure, sure
you want me to join in
on your celebrations
bless our bounty
accept your thanks
for my service
as if I were some Pilgrim
come home to receive your grace

It is November, you say, and we set aside
a day just for you to wrap up war
with a dissonance of fife and drum
and bagpipes blaring down main street

as if we can all finally dance
to the same tune

Sorry about that

My dancing days are long gone
I’d rather skate across the pond alone

I have more faith in ice

and

Veteran’s Day 2015

What strange creatures we are
setting traps for our own young
using words as spoor to mark the trails
leading them to their excruciating fate–
call it the war to end all wars
call it the good war
call it a war of liberation
desert storm desert shield

and knowing that we lack the power
of regeneration
we use our clever little minds
to design plastic limbs from
the remains of extinct forebears
to hide their pain from our sight

And then each cycle of twelve full moons
we choose the interim
from one dawn
to one twilight
to trot them out
yet one more time
in quaint uniforms
to make them shuffle before us
to grovel for our gracious thanks
to disappear back into the deep forest
of our collective forgetting

so much dust
so much ashes

SR: How do you encourage veterans to speak out, and what do you think we who haven’t served can do to encourage more veterans to speak out?

DR: First off, a veteran has to be prepared for some serious blowback, because he or she is challening the core of many veterans’ beliefs that their ‘service’ was noble in some sense. To say to them that they were ‘duped’ into serving something other than the Constitution of the United States or the ‘homeland’ is to suggest that their service and their buddies’ sacrifices were for naught. But once they have reached that conclusion, then they are encouraged to speak from their heart of their experiences, to avoid self-righteousness for having ‘found the truth,’ and to weave their messages into narrative form. Most people will resist being preached to, so rather than lecture, we tell narratives of who we are and how we got to this place in hopes that others will follow suit. You who are not military veterans can help us out by, first off, listening non-judgmentally, by resisting the urge to talk over the narrative with your own experiences, and then, then, sharing your own experiences as someone who is on the receiving end of the narrative. It is important for us veterans to hear what our loved ones are going through as they engage our pain, our angst, because their lives matter too. Here’s a relevant poem:

PTSD Remedies
For Tarak

First off, drop the ‘P’
There’s nothing ‘post’
about a mirror that threatens
to slit your wrist

But keep the ‘D’
I’ll take ‘disorder’-sweet chaos–
any time over this close order drill
that haunts my early morning hours

Then let the healing begin:

(1) Ask yourself: “Who am I?”
(2) Ask your lover: “Who are you?
(3) Remain still. Wait for he or she
to whisper: “Who are we?”

Now the ache
has permission to leave

and the sunrise
can ease you into
another day

If we can create a community, even if it is only a community of two, then all of us can build a meaningful life together. We veterans need you as much as you need us. Unfortunately, the current insidious phenomenon of framing each veteran’s ‘service’ as ‘heroic’ creates a barrier between the veteran and her or his loved ones. It challenges the veteran’s need to speak honestly, truthfully, of what he or she has witnessed and done—almost all of which, if not all of it, is hardly heroic.

SR: People seem to feel so obligated to thank veterans for their service. I wonder if some of that comes from a sense of guilt that we silently continue to allow war to be waged in our name. What do you think can be done to change that, to convince people that withdrawing our support for war, for the need for that service, doesn’t mean we have to withdraw our support for those who served?

DR: Excellent question that many of us in VFP grapple with all the time. First off, I think guilt is a debilitating, self-referential response that gets us nowhere. Yes, we should face up to our past actions and recognize where we have failed. But if we spend time wallowing in our guilt, we remove ourselves from meaningful action. But back to being thanked, here’s one answer in this poem I wrote after being in Washington D.C. last year for Veteran’s Day:

Walking The Wall: A Song
for Don

#Note: My time in Vietnam started in early July, 1969—Wall panel number W21—and ended in early August, 1970—panel W7, line 29—a walk of about 25 paces past the names of around 9800 dead. I call this ‘walking The Wall.’

Got to tell you that you’re making me nervous
Every time you thank me for me service
I know you’re trying to be nice and kind
But you are really, truly fucking with my mind

Trust me, it’s not that I really care what you think
You who have had too much of their kool-aid to drink
Trust me, you don’t know shit about what service really means
You just need to know that nothing really is as it seems

So take a walk with me down the Wall some late evening
Where we can all listen to the ghostly young soldiers keening
But don’t waste your time thanking them for their service
They just might tell you the truth—all your wars are worthless

Now, I realize this poem is somewhat harsh, but it did come out of the experience of people offering their gratuitous ‘thanks’ without knowing anything about my so-called ‘service.’ I think it’s better to ask, ‘how are you? Would you care to talk about your military experience?’ But, of course, that would take more time and might lead us down some uncomfortable pathways. A veteran friend of mine, an ex-Marine, says this: “I didn’t serve. I was used.”

Now, you also bring up a very real scenario that we in VFP have had to face over the years—we are often accused of ‘not supporting the troops.’ Even though we are veterans, troops ourselves in a previous life. If given the chance, I ask those people who accuse me of not supporting the current military forces how much time they actually devote to thinking about today’s soldiers. I know I think of these soldiers a great deal. Like many of my fellow Veterans For Peace, I have chosen to remain engaged with the very military that I have pledged to restrain as much as I can from dehumanizing the ‘other.’ I provide weekly writing sessions in our state’s VA psychiatric hospital; a fellow veteran, who was a nurse in Vietnam, works with homeless veterans; another was recognized as the national hospice volunteer of the year for working with homeless veterans; and on and on. We in VFP are actually disappointed in those who merely offer a fatuous ‘thank you’ to veterans and then continue on with their lives. We appreciate those among us who actively work to right the wrongs we have participated in during our so-called ‘service.’

SR: I worry it has become too easy to feel that merely thanking a veteran fulfills our sense of duty. It encourages me greatly to hear about actual outreach and activism that you at VFP do. It inspires me, and I hope it will inspire anyone reading this to reach out as well in any way we can.
Mr. Rawlings has so much of importance to say, that I am going to continue this conversation in a second post tomorrow.  We will talk about activism, solutions, and current projects.  Don’t miss it!!  Read it here.

The Complex Power of Simple Acts

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Today, Brussels is locked down in fear of terror attacks.  Anonymous has warned that ISIS is threatening attacks all around the world tomorrow.  Three suicide bombers in Cameroon killed possibly as many as ten people.  People are fleeing horrors all over in mass waves.  And these things really aren’t “trending” on social media.

I ranted the other day about the ridiculous red cup thing because the effectiveness of such petty things at getting attention made me angry.  I took my flattened red cup out to the woods and shot it a few times.  That was fun, but it didn’t change the fact that we are still so divided and distracted.  It seems obvious that dividing and distracting us gets easier and easier as we turn more to our devices for our interactions with others, with the world.  We are turning increasingly away from face to face interactions and I’m not alone in thinking that it is stealing our empathy.

Yesterday, while driving along a busy street, I noticed a woman jogging along the road, waving at every car that passed her.  This is a somewhat small community, so it was conceivable that she knew the drivers of the cars ahead of me, but there was something odd about her wave that caught my attention.  So, I kept an eye on her as our paths converged.  She was wearing a white t shirt, and when I got close, I saw that she had written “I welcome refugees” on the shirt with a black marker.  I really wanted to turn around and pull over to talk with her but unfortunately I didn’t have time.

As I continued along with my day, I kept thinking about her.  And it hit me how such a simple act could have such a powerful effect on me.  She was going jogging anyway, and she decided she was going to use the run as a chance to make a statement.  She was showing publicly her support for refugees.  What she showed me was compassion, she reminded me of the importance of holding onto our humanity, in spite of our fear.  A simple form of activism as part of her everyday life set off a complex series of thoughts and feelings in me.

I think there are countless people going along with their daily lives, raging silently inside about all the mess and hurt in the world, and feeling a little alone in this distracted society.  But what might happen if someone randomly jogs by with a message written in black marker on their shirt, a simple message that shows that there is someone else out there who feels the same way?  Maybe people would begin to realize they aren’t alone.  Maybe more people would start jogging along too.

It doesn’t always have to be picket lines, sit-ins, stand-ins, die-ins, marches, chaining ourselves to things.  Those are all powerful, important, and successful at getting at least brief attention to an issue.  But what if we find more ways to incorporate activism into our everyday lives?  What if we take a little risk and show others what we believe?  I believe this could bring people together.  I believe it can start conversations.  I believe it can start a wave of awareness, and change.  I believe it can start a revolution.

A History Lesson (Part One) The Internment of Japanese Americans

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Katie Aguilera

When I see an article like this  (and now this 1/28/2017 article) and begin seeing renewed calls to stop the refugees our wars in the middle east have caused, I start to think it might be time for a history lesson.  Because, as Edmund Burke clearly stated, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”  And I fear we are forgetting a past mistake, and toying with repeating it (admittedly, not for the first time exactly).

In February of 1942, the US Army General in charge of Western Defense Command (which commanded the defense of the entire west coast of the USA), John L. DeWitt, made a request for expanded authority within this area of command.  Initially this was to impose curfews and restrictions on Japanese-Americans living on the west coast.  His request was granted with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9906. Ultimately, this led to the order in May of 1942 that anyone of Japanese descent who resided within 100 miles of the west coast would be required to either relocate from this region or report to detention centers.

The US government defended this action by saying it was necessary for national security.  DeWitt argued it would be impossible to determine a Japanese-American’s loyalty to the United States.  The media fueled the fire by promoting the idea that the Japanese-American citizens couldn’t be trusted, stirring up fears all along the west coast.  The result was that over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were moved to various internment camps around the west, where they remained during the war, and even for some time after the war was over.  They were forced to leave behind property, businesses, farms, much of which was sold at great loss.  They were never accused of any crime, they hadn’t committed any.  They were simply detained in camps on the slim chance that any one of them would commit some traitorous action, or attack, against America.

Whether this action was Constitutional was challenged twice in Supreme Court cases, Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States.  The Supreme Court held in both cases that it was.  This meant that they protected the legal authority of the military to decide what was necessary for national security during war, not the elected representatives of the people, or the people themselves.  Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote:

…the validity of action under the war power must be judged wholly in the context of war.  That action is not to be stigmatized as lawless because like action in times of peace would be lawless.  To talk about a military order that expresses an allowable judgment of war needs by those entrusted with the duty of conducting war as an ‘unconstitutional order’ is to suffuse a part of the Constitution with an atmosphere of unconstitutionality.

I have been to Tule Lake, where one of the internment camps was located, many times.  I have seen homes made from camp barracks.  I find it to be a depressing place, flat and brown.  I can’t imagine being forced to spend years there, behind guarded wires.  I certainly can’t imagine being forced from my home, from my community, to be incarcerated as an act of national security.  The effects were heartbreaking.

Of course there was the devastating loss of property and personal belongings.  That included items that were placed in government storage that were stolen or destroyed.  But more important  were the effects on the people detained.  Some died due to inadequate medical care, seven were even shot and killed by guards.  Dillon S. Myer, the director of the War Relocation Authority that ran many camps, observed that the detainees were becoming “increasingly depressed” and were “overcome with feelings of helplessness and personal insecurity.” Satsuki Ina writes,  in her May 27th, 2015 article entitled, “I Know An American ‘Internment’ Camp When I See One:”

In my work with Japanese-Americans who had been incarcerated as children, many reported struggles with anxiety and depression as adults.  Particularly key was the environment in which they were held and the torment and suffering that they witnessed their parents experiencing.

(I highly recommend reading her powerful article about South and Central American women and children being held in Texas facilities, found here.  Another heart breaking detention crisis.)

It took far too many years to admit that it had been wrong to relocate and detain Japanese-Americans during World War II, and even longer to redress the mistake.  In 1983, Korematsu’s conviction that the Supreme Court had upheld was overturned because material evidence had been withheld.  That evidence included the Ringle Report, a report submitted by an Office of Naval Intelligence officer, Kenneth Ringle, in January of 1942.  In this report, he stated that the majority of Japanese-Americans were loyal to the United States and did not present any danger.  Any that might present a danger could be “individually identified and imprisoned.”  He argued against mass relocation and internment.  It wasn’t until 2011 that the justice department formally concluded that the case no longer stood as legal precedence.

In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided financial reparations to those affected by the internment.  $1.6 billion was paid out in $20,000.00 increments to 82,210 Japanese-Americans according to this report.  Internment was expensive.  The reparation costs are on top of what it cost to build, staff and operate the internment facilities, and whatever economic loss that may have occurred as a result of the sudden removal of such a large portion of the work force.  So, if you can’t see it as an awful thing to do to people, if you can’t see the cost to humanity, look at the financial cost.

Sadly, it hasn’t taken us very long to forget that it was wrong.  And it hasn’t taken us very long to forget those distressing images of dead children on beaches that had so many people crying out to help Syrian refugees.  The attacks in Paris have once again raised the cries to close borders and round up the refugees who have already come, in the name of national security.

Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney, from South Carolina, said on Tuesday,

Even amongst the most pro-immigration wings of the Republican party, there is a sense that national security absolutely has to come first.  So, we’re trying hard not to over-react.  But, at the same time, if there’s a threat to national security that has to take priority.

See the full article here, in which Speaker Ryan calls for “a pause in Syrian refugees.”

I understand that we are talking about refugees coming from another country, not our own citizens, in this current debate about the refugee crisis in the middle east and Europe.  But how can we make it okay, again, to punish an entire race of people on such a massive scale (it isn’t okay on any scale and I know it happens all the time here) on the small chance that a few of them will cause, or has caused us harm?  Consider what Professor Eugene Rostow, later dean of the Yale law school, wrote in 1945 regarding the internment of Japanese-Americans:

The idea of punishment only for individual criminal behavior is basic to all systems of civilized laws.  A great principle was never lost so casually.

(Same could be said for our wars of aggression!)

And also consider what Justice Black said after Korematsu’s conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court:

I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism.  Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life.  It is unattractive at any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States.  All residents of the nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land.  Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States.  They must accordingly be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

What happens when that race is your own?  What happens when it is your belief system?  How many US mass shooters have been white, US born and bred?  How many were legal gun owners?  Should we round up all the gun owners?  How many of them were Christian?  Should we round up all the Christians?  Should we round up all the Catholics because some in the church raped children?  All for national security?

Yes, I’m taking that to a ridiculous degree, but if you really consider the implications of collective punishment, how can you not consider how ridiculous, and dangerous, it actually is?  If you continue to let the government undermine and remove the rights of others, eventually it will get around to undermining and removing yours.  I dare say it already has.

Additional links and sources

Internment history, supreme court cases, etc

Wikipedia on the internment

A portion of John DeWitt’s letter regarding the internment

Brief biography of Kenneth Ringle

And, the book in the photo, a cherished signed copy of Silent Siege II, by Bert Webber, published in 1988 by the Webb Research Group

Profound Journeys of 180 Degrees

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I went on a journey one summer with my big white dog and my little orange van.  I headed east, nearly as far east as US roads will allow.  I traveled far enough east to get my little van stuck in the sand and watched as the Atlantic tide came within six feet of washing her away.  I turned 180 degrees and traveled home, back to the gray sands of the Pacific beaches.  Along the way, I had met people from all over the country, I had eye opening conversations with an amazing variety of people who had vastly different perspectives on the world.  My own little world had grown by immense proportions, my mind had been opened.

Within days of returning home, airplanes crashed into buildings I didn’t know existed, and everything changed.  I did not know that day just how much would change.  Immediately I was angry and heartbroken, shocked.  For some time I was interrupted in my journey, blinded by patriotism.  But, as the war rhetoric ramped up, and the focus shifted to Iraq, my anger turned to sadness.  And I began to wonder where the compassion had gone.

I began to reconsider why some would hate us enough to crash airliners full of people into buildings full of people.  I just couldn’t buy the argument that they hated us for our freedoms, I suspected it had more to do with our arrogance, and our ignorance.

That opening of my mind could not be closed, I could no longer see the world the same way.  I had made a profound journey of 180 degrees.  I had stepped out of my own existence to explore the world through others’ ideas of it.  I had discovered that Mark Twain was right when he said, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” in Innocents Abroad.  We can only make profound changes when we are willing to take the journey.

This doesn’t mean we have to get into a car, or get on a train or airplane.  There are people all around us who see things differently than we do.  Our neighbors, the person behind the counter at the grocery store, the guy on the street with a cardboard sign.  Just reach out to those you disagree with, open your mind to the possibility of a profound 180 degree journey in your own view, in your own life, in your own actions.  Reach out, and discover how others have come to their views, and question always how you have come to your own.

Because it is time that we open our eyes and accept that we can never make everyone see the world exactly as we do.  We can never agree on everything.  But we can journey to a common place to stand, united, against the greed, corruption, and war mongering of our current leaders that we all want to change.

Red Cups? How About Red Streets?

DSC_0948I made a rare stop on facebook today and discovered that there’s this thing about red cups.  I can probably count on both hands the number of times I’ve been to the business that started this, and I had no idea of the existence of these red cups until a couple of weeks ago.  I didn’t know until today that they have stirred up some controversy in the social media world.  (Marketing ploy?)  I’m not sure why, but I’m astounded that we are arguing about red cups.  Last week it was hearts versus stars, now its red cups.

Is leaving the Christ out of Christmas more of a problem than leaving his teachings of love out of our lives?  How many people died in a violent way while you stood in line, eagerly waiting to trick the barista into writing ‘Merry Christmas’ on your red cup?  How many streets were stained with blood while you stood there?  How is it that red cups and a debate about whether it should be a heart or a star can be trendy while we are STILL at war?

How can we argue about what is on a cup when the number of dead children, dead civilians, rises daily around the world?  Maybe its because we never see them, they don’t make it to our facebook or our Twitter feeds because somehow cups are more important.  I do see pictures, the broken bodies, the blood in the streets.  Its not like seeing them in person.  It’s not like touching them, holding them, carefully picking up their pieces to return to whoever they matter to.  Can you imagine?  I can’t imagine walking away from that, let alone recovering from that.  Ever.  There are far too many in the world who have had to pick up those pieces, and lost pieces of their souls as a result.  I don’t think they care if there is a reindeer on your cup.

Sadly, as I was out and about today to get this picture of the red cup in the street, already halfway through writing this post, the attacks in Paris happened.  Life, interrupted again, by death.  I feel awful for the people of Paris, the people of France.  It is a terrible thing that shouldn’t happen there, or anywhere.  Not Paris, not Syria, not Yemen, not Afghanistan, not Ukraine, the list goes on.

As the coverage of these attacks unfold, how can we not demand a stop to the blood running in the streets? When the announcement was made that we will keep troops in Afghanistan and put troops into Syria, how did we just say that it doesn’t effect us?  “It’s happening over there…to someone else…it makes no difference to us here…”  Are you insane?  Are you that heartless?  It is spreading like cancer.  We won’t stay immune forever, our streets will be red too, if we don’t put a stop to this madness right now.

Stop arguing about red cups and hearts or stars and whatever else, at least long enough to tell this rotten, corrupt government that they don’t rule the world.  They don’t have the right to tell France that we stand with them after this attack on our morals, because they have no morals.   Don’t listen as they pound their drums of war.  Stand together, keep offering shelter and free rides home.  Keep helping each other.

Let’s remind the powers that shouldn’t be that fear doesn’t rule us because we have each other to lean on.  Let’s remind the powers that shouldn’t be that we are in charge.  Let’s remind the powers that shouldn’t be that they have no right to wage these wars.  Because, without us, they cannot continue to fight them.