I knew I wanted to see the film “The Sapphires” when I heard that it was based on a true story about 4 Australian aboriginal women who entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam. Last Saturday night we couldn’t get to Amherst Cinema in time to see the film so we saw “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford’s film of the book with the same title by Neil Gordon about Weather Underground members who go underground after a botched bank robbery ends in the murder of a security guard. It was a worthwhile film that had echoes of the ’60′s and the anti-war movement as well as an incredible scene featuring Susan Sarandon explaining what motivated her character to join a group advocating ending the war by any means necessary including violence.
In between the two films was “The Draft,” the staged reading of the play based on CALLED TO SERVE. There were too many highlight moments for me to attempt to chronicle, but Penny Rock journeying from San Francisco to see Peter Snoad’s play was certainly one of the most memorable. Peter and I got to debrief with her over lunch on Friday following Thursday night’s premiere performance, which played to a full house and received a wonderfully enthusiastic response from the audience and those sending email congratulatory messages. Penny had many suggestions, but I felt her strongest message was no matter what Peter decides to change based on viewer comments or viewing the videotape courtesy of men’s group member and interview subject, Paul Richmond, he should most assuredly hold onto what the book and play are urging on us all – forgiveness and healing. The Vietnam War divided our country and those divisions are with us still. The book and play are intended to allow all who read and watch to gain an awareness and ultimately an appreciation for the ways in which we were all victims of the war and the way forward is to recognize the commonality of our experiences, forgive ourselves and one another for what we did and did not do and ultimately continue the healing process that remains so unfinished despite the intervening years. Penny embodies that work in her own story, which I decided, at the strong urging of my wife Susan who was deeply moved once again by seeing aspects of Penny’s story brought to life in the play, to include in the next version of CALLED TO SERVE.
With such words and thoughts echoing in my mind, watching “The Sapphires” last night provided many new and powerful images having to do with forgiveness and healing. Without revealing too much, since I strongly urge you to see the film if that is possible in your neck of the woods, let it suffice to say that there is a moment in the film where a beloved grandparent figure finds it in her heart to welcome a “stolen child,” one who was literally kidnapped by white Austalians who gave themselves license, as was done here in America to our native population, to steal native children, especially light skinned ones, from their homes, communities and cultures in order to raise them in a white world. The scene where this takes place was overpowering for me. All of the ways in which our culture has so egregiously failed to welcome our soldiers home, to cleanse them and accept them back into the community, to heal them and affirm them as beloved members of their families, and to forgive them for the awful things they have had to see and do – these failures were what I was keenly aware of as I watched this young woman brought back into the loving embrace of her loved ones.
This is what we must face as a country, community by community. This film reinforces this fact sensitively and beautifully.
George W. Bush Library dedication attended By President Obama And former presidents. (Photo: Getty)Responding to the fawning morning coverage of the opening of the George W. Bush presidential library in Texas Thursday, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill mocked the cable news outlet MSNBC by tweeting:
“This is such a singular moment,” said MSNBC’s David Gregory in the interlude between the presentation of the First Ladies and the subsequent introduction of President Obama and the former US presidents: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter. “It’s not just pomp and circumstance,” Gregory said as the US Army band rolled drums and the trumpets blared.
The Pledge of Allegiance followed. Shortly thereafter, former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice took the podium to deliver a series of introductions.
MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews set the frame for the network’s coverage by saying, “No one wants to talk about Iraq on a day like this.” Instead Matthews repeated time and again, what people really wanted to know was what Obama and former first lady Barbara Bush, seated next to one another on stage, were chatting and giggling about.
As the ordered ceremony continued—with each former President taking turns with a few remarks—anti-war activists proved Matthews wrong by utilizing the official #bushcenter hashtag to voice their opposition to the Bush legacy and calling the former president a ‘war criminal’:
The library, officially called the George W. Bush Presidential Center, is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas and was designed to honor—critics argue ‘to re-write’—the legacy of the former US president whose administration led the country into two foreign wars, opened the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as a way to avoid judicial oversight of detainee treatment, initiated rendition and torture programs within a global network of CIA-run black site facilities, oversaw the creation of a vast national surveillance apparatus, and ushered in the largest financial crisis of the modern era.
Outside the event, more than 200 peace activists protested behind police barricades against what they called Bush’s “crimes against humanity”.
In an interview with USA Today earlier this week, George W. Bush repeated what he has often said about his legacy by remarking, “I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.”
For many, however, that judgement deserves no further delay.
Asked in an interview to suggest what the world should remember about the Bush legacy, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange responded by saying:
A good place to start would be laying out the number of deaths caused by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. At Wikileaks, we documented that from 2004-2009, the US had records of over 100,000 individual deaths of Iraqis due to violence unleashed by that invasion, roughly 80% of them civilians. These are the recorded deaths, but many more died. And in Afghanistan, the US recorded about 20,000 deaths from 2004-2010. These would be good facts to include in the presidential library.
And perhaps the library could document how people around the world protested against the invasion of Iraq, including the historic February 15, 2003 mobilization of millions of people around the globe.
And Common Dreams contributors Jodie Evans and Charles Davis write on Thursday:
George W. Bush presided over an international network of torture chambers and, with the help of a compliant Congress and press, launched a war of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. However, instead of the bloody details of his time in office being recounted at a war crimes tribunal, the former president has been able to bank on his imperial privilege – and a network of rich corporate donors that he made richer while in office – to tell his version of history at a library in Texas being opened in his name.
Kill a few, they call you a murderer. Kill tens of thousands, they give you $500 million for a granite vanity project and a glossy 30-page supplement in the local paper.
Bush’s legacy is reflected not in his library, but in the regular bombings that rock Baghdad, killing dozens at a time. The Connecticut blue blood turned straight talkin’ Texan is of course welcome to tell his side of the story. That’s only fair. But let him do it at the Hague.
Last month, on the tenth anniversay of the start of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, wounded Iraq war veteran Thomas Young, who remains in hospice waiting to die, wrote an open letter to Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney which included:
I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Ending his letter, Young wrote to Bush:
My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
Back in Texas on Thursday, just as Bush closed his remarks at the library’s opening ceremony, a tear caught his eye and he swallowed a sob as he returned to his seat. There was no apology for the war, the many deaths, or torture. There was no confession or acknowledgement of sin or error. The military band rose to perform “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” as the other presidents, their wives, and the crowd sang and applauded.
Charles Rangel sure thinks so and I have to confess, given our track record since Vietnam with an all-volunteer army fighting our awful and unnecessary wars, perhaps he’s right. I am certainly torn when it comes to imagining a re-instated draft that requires all young Americans to serve their country in either military or civilian roles for 2 years. Remembering the anti-war movement that was very connected to the draft during Vietnam and how our government responded got easier for me this week, since I have been watching the incredibly powerful Oliver Stone series, “UNKNOWN HISTORY OF THE U.S.” and the last episode (#7) I watched Friday morning before school was all about the war.
Arguments continue to this day as to whether it was the degree to which the draft affected so many of my generation that gave rise to such a movement and whether that movement caused Nixon and his cronies to question our endless seeming involvement in that “mistake,” as John Kerry, now Secretary of State, called it. But if there was more “shared sacrifice” as Rangel describes it, would Bush’s administration have thought twice before beginning the horrific wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon is now obligated to consider whether women upon turning 18 will have to do as their male counterparts have been doing and register with the armed services. Rangel wants this country’s leaders to much more deeply examine what they are doing when they support such grand mistakes as the two wars Bush and co. began and he feels if they were obliged to consider the effects on a much broader swath of the population, they’d be much less likely to rush us into war. If he’s correct then I could support such a draft…
Rangel, who has pushed for years to bring back the draft, said the Pentagon’s decision to allow women to serve in combat means that they too should register for the Selective Service.
“Now that women can serve in combat they should register for the Selective Service alongside their male counterparts,” Rangel said in a statement. “Reinstating the draft and requiring women to register for the Selective Service would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation. We must question why and how we go to war, and who decides to send our men and women into harm’s way.”
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order rescinding the ban on women serving in combat units last month, potentially opening up as many as 237,000 positions to female service members.
The move raised a number of policy issues, including whether women will now be required to register with the Selective Service. The Pentagon is required to report on how changing the ban effects the constitutionality of the registration being males only.
In an interview on MSNBC, Rangel said the draft should be reinstated because the majority of Americans make “no real sacrifice” when the country goes to war.
“The Congress never gets a chance to vote up and down on these war questions. Every president just puts our kids in harm’s way and we just foot the bill, but there’s no real sacrifice in what’s going on. Less than 1 percent of American families are involved in the military and they really pay the price for it,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
He argued that a draft would make the executive branch think long and hard before sending troops overseas.
“Take my word for it, if every time a president was about to put our kids in harm’s way, we we’re thinking about our kids and grandkids, it just wouldn’t happen,” he said.
Rangel’s legislation would require those between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform two years of national service in either the armed services or in civilian life, while the All American Selective Service Act would force women to enroll in the Selective Service System.
“If this country has its security threatened, I would like to believe that all of us, no matter how old we are, would want to do something.”
Crucial as it is for women to have the same opportunities and benefits as men who do comparable work, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s announcement that women can now serve in combat positions in the military should not be misconstrued as a step forward for women. Lt. Col. Tamatha Patterson of the Army with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times)
As the women’s rights advocacy group AF3IRM GABNET said in a statement on their Facebook page,
The Pentagon lifted a ban on women in combat, stating that women can now serve on the frontlines. We in AF3IRM know that this is already common practice and that women of color and transnational women are already disproportionately over-represented in the US military. They are pushed into military duty due to poverty and lack of other options.
We do not celebrate this new “elimination of a gender-based barrier.” We do not celebrate sending us women overseas to kill other women and children in someone else’s name. (emphasis mine)
According to a study by the PEW Research Center, women now make up 14% of the enlisted ranks and 16% of the officer ranks. A look at the racial breakdown of those numbers is instructive,
While 71% of active-duty men are white (including white Hispanics), only about half of active-duty women (53%) are white. The share of white women in the military is also significantly smaller than their proportion in the civilian female population ages 18-44 (78%).
More than three-in-ten (31%) military women are black (including black Hispanics). This is almost twice the share of active-duty men who are black (16%), as well as more than twice the proportion of civilian women ages 18-44 who are black (15%). In addition, more women in the active-duty force than men in the active-duty force and civilian women ages 18-44 are of mixed racial background or some other race.3
The share of Hispanics among women and men in the armed forces is similar (13% vs. 12%, respectively), and the share of military women who are Hispanic is smaller than that of Hispanic women ages 18-44 in the U.S. civilian population (16%). But the number of Hispanics enlisting in the active-duty force each year has risen significantly over the last decade. In 2003, Hispanic women and men made up 11.5% of the new enlistees to the military; just seven years later, in 2010, they made up 16.9% of non-prior service enlisted accessions.
More than eight-in-ten post-9/11 female veterans say they joined to serve their country or receive education benefits (83% and 82%, respectively). Fully 70% say they joined to see more of the world and almost as many (67%) say they joined to gain job skills.
However, there is one key difference in the reasons that men and women joined the military. Some 42% of female veterans say they joined the military because jobs were hard to find, compared with one-quarter of men.
The take away here should be that we need to take a good hard look at the ways in which we are failing these women in regard to job training and job availability in the civilian world because as it stands now, we are effectively asking the most disenfranchised among us to fight our wars, and this move only makes it more dangerous for them, regardless of rank and benefits.
So yes, equal rights and benefits are necessary, but not at the expense of condoning a system that requires us to kill and destroy for empire and perpetuates a myriad of harms against women, against men too, and against Mother Earth.
It is also hugely ironic that Panetta’s announcement came the same day that Congress was holding yet another hearing on the intractable problem of sexual assault in the military. The truth is that women are more likely to be attacked by other members of our military than by any enemy. The New York Times’ Gail Collins makes the unfortunate suggestion that having more women rise in the ranks might,
make things better because it will mean more women at the top of the military, and that, inevitably, will mean more attention to women’s issues.
Sexual assault in the military is not a woman’s issue. It is an epidemic and a national disgrace that is a direct result of the misguided notion of militarism that posits that strength comes from asserting power over others. Militarism has never been good for women because, among other reasons, it places them in harms way by armies that rape and assault women as a de facto military strategy and because women are more likely to become refugees, unable to support themselves or take care of their families and placing them in further danger of physical and sexual attack.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also makes the argument that more equality will lead to more respect and hence less sexual assault in the ranks, but the military is still a top-down power over structure and women who do serve in lower ranks will continue to be vulnerable. And let’s face it, we live in a country where Congress just failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act and where we still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment and the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The disrespect of women’s rights, safety and well-being is a de facto national policy in the U.S.
It is being said that drafting women will inevitably follow and I am not in favor of that any more than I think drafting men is a good thing. Let’s be honest about the mission of the U.S. military. It isn’t to defend this country, there hasn’t been a war for that purpose in my lifetime. Instead we have repeatedly engaged in military operations for the sole purpose of asserting empire and domination.
If the purpose of the military was truly to defend the citizens of this country and make it strong, they would be protecting women from violence in their own ranks and in every city in this country. They would be building up our shorelines to protect us from the inevitable further flooding of climate change. They would be re-building our tattered roads and utilities and installing solar panels so that we do not depend on non-renewable resources (of which incidentally they are one of the biggest users).
But instead, our military serves as the global bully, taking swings at whomever we don’t like at at any particular moment, with little heed to the negative impact that has on us all. And every time there is a war, civilian women who live where the war is being fought are victimized. And here at home more money is poured into the military while social services, education and health care are desperately underfunded and for poor women and women of color we perpetuate the cycle that propels them to join the military for reasons such as getting an education and job training.
So yes, equal rights and benefits are necessary, but not at the expense of condoning a system that requires us to kill and destroy for empire and perpetuates a myriad of harms against women, against men too, and against Mother Earth. That is a false and harmful premise of equality that we must reject.