Late Summer Moonlight

moonlight-landscape-11287160000RlIy Moonlight landscape by Petr Kratochvil

Late summer

The dark forest

Resonates with soft cricket chorus

Perfect silence in their hesitations

Yellow quarter moon through pine forest

In the southwest

Spirits of the wood banished

Loss and regret

Nowhere amidst passing summer clouds

On gentle breeze.

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War Resisters and the Cowardice Slur

 

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Public domain photo

 

War Resistance and the Cowardice Slur

For some reason, perhaps the endless wars that the U.S. now fights and the ethos of machismo, there remains a feeling among many in the U.S., who may or may not remember the Vietnam War and the Vietnam era, that it was somehow cowardly to resist military service.

The flip side of that argument might be that there was something “noble” (to use the word of Ronald Reagan) in taking an active part in fighting that war against a people with whom we had no axe to grind and in a cause that did absolutely nothing to further the interests of the U.S. About 5 million people died in Southeast Asia during that period. More than 58,000 Americans also died.

During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, those who served in the administration of George W. Bush, and who got out of military service during the Vietnam War, were referred to as chicken hawks.  There is no doubt that many got out of military service for the most selfish of reasons, but for tens of thousands of others it was an act of conscience that probably will never happen again in U.S. history. There most likely will never be another time in the history of this nation where individuals, and others acting in groups, will have the opportunity to say no to a U.S. policy that involves the issues of life or death and war or peace in such an immediate and pressing way.

The issue of war resistance (of both men and women) during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq saw resisters facing strong opposition for their decisions to resist war because of the support for those wars in the U.S. and the voluntary nature of their service. It was as if the exposure and individual responses to war were different when a person chose service in the military as opposed to being drafted.

In a recent interview with the renowned journalist David Cay Johnston on Democracy Now, “David Cay Johnson: 21 Questions for Trump on Kickbacks, Busting Unions, the Mob & Corporate Welfare” (August 19, 2015), the chicken hawk analogy came up once again. Johnston described alleged questionable business dealings by presidential candidate Donald Trump and conflated Trump’s behavior with his avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War. “And I think that’s consistent with Donald having so assiduously avoided the draft.” He continues, “Donald is not a guy to put himself in any position that he thinks might represent any kind of physical danger to him whatsoever.” Wow!

Trump’s policy pronouncements sound like an interchange between characters in a Marx Brothers’ movie, but the representation of draft resistance in this manner was nothing less than insulting.

First, coming to a decision to resist the most powerful government in the world during wartime is not exactly like going on a summer picnic. It is a gut-wrenching experience that affects the war resister and his larger circle of family and friends. It involves a person’s most basic beliefs and philosophy of life. Once the decision to resist has been made, the government could ignore that decision, or it could have resulted in imprisonment or exile from the country. Whatever the outcome of a decision to resist the power of the government, the results were life altering.  While draft resisters fared far better in terms of the amnesty President Jimmy Carter instituted, many military resisters were punished with “bad” discharges and the loss of veterans’ benefits. Many other veterans were singled out for punishment through the loss of veterans’ benefits for relatively minor infractions. There was a clear class distinction in how war resisters from the Vietnam era were dealt with by the government. It was all about punishment, while Richard Nixon was granted a complete pardon by his successor, Gerald Ford.

There were many faces to resistance during the Vietnam War.  The assessment of the number of resisters varies widely. There were around 700,000 draft and military resisters according to the article “Draft and Military Resistance to the Vietnam War: We Ain’t Marching Anymore,” in Nonviolent Activist by Andy Mager (March-April 2000). Facts cited by the Justice Department show that 570,000 men violated draft laws.  The same article reports that the estimate of deserters was between 80,000 to 200,000 and that figure does not take into account the large number of active military personnel in Vietnam who resisted the war in their own way, sometimes involving the refusal to follow the order to go into battle or committing fraggings, which were the attacks against unpopular officers.

The eradication of the distaste for war known as the Vietnam Syndrome was short lived, as wars for natural resources, empire, and the unchallenged role of the U.S. as the sole superpower began. With the era of endless wars and a volunteer military long entrenched as U.S. policy, questions of whether or not to serve in times of war is different from the day the draft ended in 1973. But conflating draft and military resistance with cowardice is an issue that needs to be considered more carefully by those in positions who address significant issues.

Politicians like George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Donald Trump need to be judged on their actions, not on the perception of their military service or the lack of that service. According to Mager, the resisters that he interviewed for his article all view their resistance to the Vietnam War, and their social and political activism in the decades that followed, as a defining era and high point in their lives.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Experiments Gone Bad

Unknown Public domain photo

Published at CounterPunch on August 13, 2015

Experiments Gone Bad

Watching “The Stanford Prison Experiment” (Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, 2015), I thought that it might be a good parable for how U.S. society has become so hardened by endless war and the shocking revelations of the practice of torture resulting from those wars, that it seems almost impossible to free ourselves from the dictates of war and a society so militarized that the immoral and unethical become accepted.

The topsy-turvy Orwellian world of the Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted in 1971, illustrates how authority, in this case that of the academics who designed and monitored the experiment, and the research experiment’s prison “guards,” could allow their roles to alter their humanity.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo took the results from Stanford and concluded that good people can be induced to act in both good and evil ways, a thesis that is a critique of the “bad apple” explanation of immoral behavior. Zimbardo, however, does not discount the role of individual personality in inducing wrong-headed behaviors. As a footnote to Zimbardo’s work,  the research in the prison experiment was funded with a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

Analogies to the use of torture by U.S. spy agencies and the military at sites around the world can be made, and particularly at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, with the help, and in some cases, the participation of U.S. psychologists. The battle within the American Psychological Association that was recently “won” by those in that organization opposed to torture is another theme that merits close attention. Imagine having to “win” on the issue of torture within a major professional organization of mental health providers in the U.S.?

“And so it goes,” as the author Kurt Vonnegut observed, someone who had seen the horrors of World War II firsthand and was left with his humanity intact, as many miraculously are.

But, there are those who are in positions of power who learn nothing, even as they brushed up closely against, and facilitated the ascension to power of those who unleashed the endless wars and the perversion of their humanity. Perhaps this is the irony of humankind? Some, even Holocaust survivors, can retain their humanity, while others who fantasize policies out of the Wild West are often placed in positions of power and lose that humanity.

And the loss of humanity goes on… It seems that the clown car that is the Republican Party has lost its engine’s governor that would put a muzzle on some of the excesses of policy pronouncements as it pulls into towns and cities across this nation. Not so with Jeb Bush, a leader in the pack of presidential wolves among the Republicans, who attacks Hillary Clinton, filled with enough of her own sins vis-à-vis support for U.S. supremacy in war (“Bush Says Clinton ‘Stood By’ as Iraq Fell Into Violence,” The New York Times, August 11, 2015).

Is the memory of those in the U.S. so short that historical amnesia now afflicts large segments of the country, and that loss of memory points the finger of history at Jeb Bush, who facilitated his brother’s taking of the presidency in 2000, which began the massive violations of international and national law that followed on the heels of that coup d’état?

Nothing surprises anymore in this upside-down world of realpolitik. The first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death was marked by a shooting in Missouri and representatives of a group of radical militiamen, the Oath Keepers, descended on Ferguson, much like the radical gun owners who wanted to appear in Newtown, Connecticut following the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and were nearly able to perform an in your face act of gun-owner solidarity in full view of the families of fallen children and school personnel and all of those who grieved for them across this nation and world.

“Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason,” (Mother Jones, March/April 2010 Issue) will certainly have the desired effect of putting fear into the most optimistic of hearts.  We find ourselves without a national moral compass as horror after horror passes before our eyes, and only those with the strongest of resolve can see that the experiment has gone so very bad before it’s too late.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

Reflections at the Approach of a Great Summer Storm

UnknownPublic domain photo

 

Reflections at the Approach of a Great Summer Storm

Great ink black billowing cumulonimbus

Driven in from the southwest

Their rain shafts and lightning

Trailing over the deep emerald green of hills

Dotted by ancient silent stones

That mark

Forgotten loves and trials and immense paradoxes.