Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May 5 - Some Thoughts

As the West Coast portion of the book tour ends and I head to the East Coast for the next phase, some thoughts....

Many of us who have been engaged with the Global War on Terror since its inception are still around, active, and just as resistant to war! As I did then, I still view the GWOT as propaganda for a nationalistic fervor that is a cover for activities that Naomi Klein identifies in her book, The Shock Doctrine. (Remember that litany of propaganda: "Saddam is responsible for 9/11" - some Americans still believe this; then "Saddam has WMD and is a direct threat to US," then "Saddam should be removed because he's killed so many of his people"?)

Over the last four years, my resistance took a slightly different form based upon my own particular worldview: that of an emigrant from apartheid South Africa, a sojourner in Israel during the late 1970s, and as a young adult immigrant to the US. When I understood that I'd assumed too much about what the US military is and does...and my own child enlisted... I also understood that, because I was "busy" with parenthood, school, work, and so on, I'd taken my eye off what I'd already learned in my homeland: that one needs to be vigilant about politics and politicians.

Accordingly, when I traveled to Iraq to talk to my son about the sorts of things that can happen in war...actions that can damage human psyches for a lifetime... I also determined to share the stories of other women and mothers...especially those of mothers in the Greater Middle East and Afghanistan. For there is a tendency in American mainstream culture - indeed, even in progressive political culture - to perpetuate an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude. This means that if it does not impact you and your family directly, why bother with it, why pay attention? (In progressive circles this showed up as labeling the war in Afghanistan "righteous" while the the war in Iraq was "illegal.")

A word about Attitudes
These short-sighted attitudes perpetuate the same kind of thinking that goes into attitudes about how we manage our trash. A mainstream notion holds that throwing trash into a "dump" magically "disappears" it into the great trash pile in the sky, that it is "taken care of" and that it won't come back in mutated form to haunt us.

Of course I'm not equating our military personnel with "trash" - my own beloved son served honorably in the military and I have a deep respect and compassion for our youth who serve.

What I'm surfacing is an attitude, a worldview, a set of unconscious assumptions that guide our thinking and that we take for granted.... In the case of trash, "we" in the West assume our trash magically disappears rather than, in the best case scenario, ending up as local landfill. Two worse case scenarios that we're beginning to recognize:
- that great trash pile in the sky is really a floating and growing Great Pacific Garbage Patch apparently hundreds of square miles wide....
- toxic dumping of used and "recycled" materials from Western countries litters developing nations. (A small number of journalists are reporting that the "piracy problem" touted as "a direct threat to "our" national security" is really an attempt by local seafarers to ensure that no more toxic trash is dumped on their lands. With the disintegration of these nation states there is no longer a system of defense against those dumping toxic waste ...so "pirates" try to protect their sovereign shores.)

Point is, just as many of us assume that trash magically disappears into thin air simply because we no longer see it, too many of us assume that youth enlisting in the military magically comes home healthy, wealthy, and wiser for the experience. That assumption continues to perpetuate the believe that there is no need to "support the troops" other than by slapping a magnetic yellow ribbon on one's car and letting the troops take care of themselves, when they get home let 'em eat cake ...and "pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps" as they're eating it....

Instead, our highly trained militarized youth returns to an environment that, frequently, refuses to hear their stories or hold their anguish and, often, their shame. The troops are often a source of deep truth when they tell their stories of war and a real inspiration.

As one Iraq war veteran told me, “Most people on the streets don’t want to know what has to happen for them to have one of the highest living standards in the world… just like you don’t want to see the back room of the butcher shop….”

Nevertheless, when they resort to violence at home, We the People are shocked! We wonder why. But in the worldview of those now trained as combat troops, violence is a solution that they've learned is sanctioned by their military and their government. Isn't this common sense?

In my book, Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror I explore the plight of military personnel. I also present the stories of real people affected by war and terror in the lands in which the US is carrying out an outmoded foreign policy. I bring verbatim stories of people "over there" in an attempt to recognize that I - with my Western worldview - cannot interpret their stories and 'make them fit' my own ideological system. Moreover, I want the women whose stories are shared in the book to recognize themselves, their words, their anguish... It is not up to me to "use" or co-opt their stories to fit a narrative that may not portray them wholly as who they are. Indeed, this has been done repeatedly to these women and I, as a woman and a mother, will not perpetuate a system of co-optation that is, essentially, exploitative - even when it is carried out for a "good" cause.

Let me clearly state that every time I approached a woman, man or young person to share her/his perspective - whether in Iraq, Israel, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria or in the US and Afghanistan - I began by ensuring that the potential narrator understood that my own son was active duty military. This because I wanted to approach them with full integrity and give each narrator the opportunity to share - or not - from her/his full integrity and understanding. There was never a single case that a narrator backed away from me because of my status as "military mom" (that is, in the GME or Central Asia; there were a few cases in the US). Most were voluble and, among other things, wanted to understand why, for example, "American mothers send their children to die in Iraq?"

We had deep conversations about the different concepts that guide our cultures - differences in how young people make decisions, why young men and women become "martyrs" and what that word means in the that specific region, why many Israeli mothers fear the day their children turn 18 years old (that is the age their children are conscripted to the Israeli Defense Force)... about occupation sold to citizens as "democracy"... and why we elect the leaders we do....

While Western and Middle Eastern and Afghan cultures are fundamentally different - essentially, the first is individualist while the other two are collectivist - those of us affected by war understand that we want the same essential things from life: healthy families, good educations for our children and our citizens, safety and security in our neighborhoods, and stable governments concerned with the needs of citizens, the environment, and the economy. These are the values that bind us as human beings beyond the local propaganda sold in the US as "they hate us for our freedoms"....

For none of us is safe if some of us are lacking these essentials. Here in the US, we must not "throw away" our young enlisted youth because it doesn't suit our schedules or worldviews to pay closer attention....

Why should it take a burgeoning suicide rate among active duty and veteran communities for Americans to acknowledge the effects of war?

After the horrors of Vietnam - over 50,000 dead Americans and millions of Vietnamese still suffering - what didn't We the People learn about war?

Why are military recruiters allowed to fulfill their enlistment quotas by resorting to lies and coercion to enlist our vulnerable youth ?

What is it about our system of defense and "national security" that is making all of us less safe... and more prone to dualistic, fundamentalist, black/white thinking?

As Americans we have some serious questions to ask ourselves and our culture.

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