Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Decade's Biggest Scam

The decade's biggest scam 

By Glenn Greenwald


Monday, August 29, 2011

Hafa na Liberasion #20?: Self-Determination is Liberation

I’ve been following closely since the start of the year Governor Calvo’s use of colonialism and self-determination when talking about different, sometimes seemingly unrelated issues. As someone who takes seriously the role of contemporary and historical colonialism in shaping Guam, I’ve been impressed with his rhetoric, but also wary as to how much of it is real and how much of it might be simple posturing.

Every Governor of Guam has the same choices in terms of their approach to navigating the sometimes stormy, sometimes placid seas of Federal-Territorial relations. You can pretend you are just like a state and accept the Hansel and Gretel like breadcrumbs of tokenism that make you feel like you are moving forward when you are really not. Or you can play the colonial card and try to define yourself from your actual position, which is much more difficult in the short term, but does have the aura of possible helping to lead Guam in the next step of its political evolution.

Although the Governor of Texas may have flirted recently with secessionist talk, Guam is the kind of place where if the Governor talks about Guam being outside the political union or about Guam becoming independent, that isn’t just rhetoric but the facts of the matter. This sort of talk about colonialism is one of the tools every governor has at their disposal. Governors of ole always sought to skirt the issue and play the role of smiley and complaint natives, but more recent Maga’låhi have enjoyed the appearance of being strong and standing up to Uncle Sam, the punkish satisfaction of speaking truth to power and of course trying to shame the Feds when they don’t leave their bases to come and visit the people.

For Calvo and any Guam Governor the importance of this tactic is always how much action to you put behind the rhetoric. Are you just name-calling or are you pushing concretely for self-determination or for Guam being more self-sufficient and take better care of itself? One of the main downsides to this approach is that if you take this strategy too far, you can quickly appear to be ungrateful or too radical. Although Guam is a colony, it is first and foremost a colony that lives in denial about its status and so the Governor takes a risk by reminding people of things which they would rather forget and not deal with. The importance of playing the colonial card is local, giving the island a gentle reminder, but doesn’t do much elsewhere.

Calling the US a colonizer in both a contemporary and historical sense is in truth far from radical and is something which can be proven over and over. The problem that most people have with this sort of calling out is not that it’s untrue, but rather that it might upset the US. Too often Guam lives in fear of not wanting to distress the overbearing, all-consuming American father figure, who the island may loathe one minute, but feel desperately dependent upon the next. We sometimes resist speaking the truth since there is a fear that it’ll make Uncle Sam mad and it’ll make him withdraw funds, withdraw troops, leave the island and take everything that he has given us. This is however, barely true and barely a real issue.

Politicians in D.C. can posture in ways to make it seem like they have been wounded by offensive rhetoric, but it rarely has any effect on policy. Every once in a while the self-determination rhetoric will reach the ears of a clueless Congressperson and some statement will be put out screeching that the people on Guam are ungrateful and that maybe they should just be let loose like the ungrateful achakma' that they are. This response is always there, but it has little effect, it has never actually led to anything. What an interesting world it would be if this threat actually came true and suddenly Guam found itself one day independent or sold off to China to improve the debt rating of the US.

The real problem with calling the US a colonizer is much worse and much more banal, it is just that it doesn't care and worse doesn’t know enough about itself to even understand what the implications of this label are.

Centuries of building up mental defenses against the sins of their past, still leads Americans open to the wounds left from slavery, but is still pretty secure and safe from the sins of indigenous displacement or genocide. You can call America racist, which is for the most part, a mistreatment of individuals, but calling them something more and involving the use of land which was taken and which the US never ever wants to give back, is something else entirely. The people of the United States are colonizers in so many senses of the word, but the process of forgetting and denying and believing themselves to be the best hope for the world has kept from safely from ever understanding simple things such as this.

But this is always a problem with the past. If it is something which can be solved through frowning or feeling bad, then something can and will most likely be done. But if the cost of admitting to that violence is too great, if it requires more than empty gestures and simply saying "We see that you suffered and recognize your pain," then those things are avoided like a plague which will wipe out the descendants of anyone who has ever owned a slave in human history. A perfect example of this is the famous Apology Resolution passed by the Congress and signed by President Clinton. While it acknowledges that wrongs were committed and that the US is sorry for what happened, when this resolution was used by Native Hawaiians in order to actually seek some sort of restitution, the Supreme Court ruled that the resolution was not binding and has no legal meaning or effect.

The greater a nation is convinced it is, the less likely it is to ever actually do anything about the sins of its past or the injustice that is carried out in its name. The United States, which has moved to the top of the world through ingenuity, innovation, the promotion of human freedom and liberty, but also genocide, slavery, imperialism and overthrowing alot of foreign leaders who didn't support their military or economic interests has almost too much baggage to ever even want to open them up. It is for that reason why it remains a nation which above all can forget things as quickly as they happen, and can have a terrible history in almost every corner of the globe, which has almost no ability to affect how people feel about themselves or their country.

The height of this cluelessness was of course the 911 attacks in which Americans firstly felt as if this sort of violence was somehow a new occurrence and that this attack was so unique and different because while this is violence they had meted out to so many countries over the years, it was the first time in generations that they felt its sting. And second, the idea that after so many years of destroying peoples' movements, overthrowing democratic elected governments, fomenting fake revolutions, instigating civil wars, and just causing a global tsunami of human misery, people in the US could not fathom that anyone would want to attack them.

The US has to ability to unconsciously dust off their shoulders so much guilt, how minute and insignificant is it to be called "colonial" by the governor of a tiny faraway colony.

But locally, this shift in rhetoric could be very important. Under the previous governor the island regressed in terms of political status. Gains which had been made on so many levels were lost because the governor for whatever reason lived in fear of the issue and ensured that nothing would happen while he was in charge. The Government of Guam can be the key piece in the island moving on this issue, since even if it is maligned regularly for everything it does, it still has the aura of being a legitimate leader on issues, which is something diffuse groups of activist don't possess and therefore have trouble creating a significant force around. This change in rhetoric can be the start of something much more significant, but so much of it will depend upon how focused the Calvo administration is on this issue, and how serious they are not just about a decolonization vote, but the issue of self-determination in general.

Decolonization has long been feared by people on Guam as a concept which always means going against the United States, as a sort of brutish form of independence. This is the way in which I most properly identify it as, but as a concept in terms of political status change it does not mean independence only, but that is simply just one of the options available. Decolonization could also mean free association or statehood as well. But this assumption that decolonization tends to mean independence means that people associate it with being anti-American or that to seek political status change means to go going against the US and what it stands for. In a very important way, decolonization is precisely that. It is a challenge to the colonizer, it is a challenge to the US and so it is not necessarily "hateful" towards it, but it is sustained by an idea that what it offers is not enough or that the people of Guam want something more than the US is willing to give.

But at the same time, seeking self-determination or decolonization for Guam is something which you could argue as being very American. I have pasted below the testimony of Governor Calvo at the UN earlier this year to see how he argues (using the context of Liberation Day) to say that self-determination and supporting it is actually no anti-American, but at the heart of what America is supposed to stand for.


Self Determination is Liberation

Governor Eddie Baza Calvo
The Pacific Daily News
June 17, 2011
Editor's note: The following remarks will be delivered on Gov. Eddie Calvo's behalf to the United Nation's Special Committee on Decolonization.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the United Nations, the people of Guam need your help. We are bearing a great burden. Colonialism has weighed down upon our people for nearly 500 years. This half millennium of external rule has taken its toll.

Our Chamorro ancestors came to Guam centuries before the Polynesians arrived in Hawaii. Our chiefs held law over the land before the kings of Europe. Our latte stones were built as the Mayans built their pyramids. Yet the only written history of this advanced and unique people are the accounts of foreigners -- of Spanish conquistadors and priests.

Our island suffered over 230 years of Spanish colonial rule. Chamorros were devastated by new diseases, war and oppression. After the Spanish-American War, the United States claimed Guam, and rule began under the naval government. Once again, Chamorros had no representation, and no say in their future.

Japan's foray into imperialism during World War II was especially brutal for Guam, when Chamorros suffered atrocities from the Japanese army. Our women were raped. Our men were beheaded. Chamorro families were marched into caves and exterminated like vermin.

After three years of pain and suffering, America finally stormed the beaches of our island on July 1944 to take back the island. The occasion is known as Liberation Day, but while we were liberated from slavery and war, the Chamorros were still suppressed under colonialism. One of Guam's liberators, a brave American, Darrell Doss, said it best:

"Fifty-nine years ago, on July 21, 1944, I and more than 57,000 Marines, soldiers and sailors came ashore on the beaches of Asan and Agat, and were honored to be referred to as 'liberators.' But in the end, we failed to accomplish what we had come to do -- liberate you. More correctly, our government failed both of us by not granting the people of Guam full citizenship. Another injustice is not allowing Guam to have equal say, as we in the states do, in governing your island home. Please remember, we men who landed on your shores July 21, 1944, shall never be fully satisfied until you are fully liberated."

Worse yet, the Chamorro people have yet to even receive reparations for the atrocities they suffered. The United States has already acknowledged the need to address wrongdoings during World War II, which is why Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes during the war have been compensated. These reparations were justified.

Thousands of Japanese-Americans underwent forced internment, the motivations racist and ignorant. But what of our greatest generation on Guam? The Chamorros of World War II endured slavery, occupation, murder, and genocide. Yet the U.S. government is silent in its obligations to war reparations. Our island anxiously awaits the day when our people can receive the same amount of respect as fellow Americans who endured unimaginable evil during that time. The silence from the administering power on this issue reinforces the point that Guam can no longer remain a colony in perpetuity.

Ladies and gentlemen, for nearly half a millennium the Chamorro people have been unable to reach their full socio-economic potential because of our political status. Now, more than ever, it is important to move forward, while there are still Chamorros left to express our right to self-determination.

I am thankful our administering power, the United States, recognizes this right and need. The Obama administration has agreed to match local funding I have allocated for our decolonization efforts. The government of Guam is committed to a plebiscite. I personally would like to see a vote taken in the next General Election or the election after. What's most important is to make sure our Chamorros make an educated decision on the political status they want to move toward.

To say, "exercising this human right is long overdue" is a gross understatement. For far too long, the Chamorro people have been told to be satisfied with a political status that doesn't respect their wishes first. For far too long the native people of Guam have been dealing with inequality of government. We have been dealing with taxation without full representation, with quasi-citizenship and partial belonging.

Now it is time for us to realize our full political destiny, so we can take control and lead and live the way that is best for our people. I am urging this body to support our human rights as citizens of this world, to help us become citizens of a place -- of our place in this world.

Kao siña un ayuda ham ni' manChamoru. Siña un rikoknisa i direchon-måmi para dinitetminan maisa. Ayuda ham humago' i guinifen-måmi. Manespisiåt ham. Mambanidosu ham. ManChamoru ham.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Guam.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


This month or next I'll be finishing off an art project I've been working on for more than a year with my brother Jack and i nananfamagu'on-hu Jessica Chan. To be truthful, while I have been working on it for more than a year, the hardwork is actually being done by these artists, I'm doing more of the conceptualizing of it.

The project is titled The Untold Story of the Chamurai: How Chamorro and Samurai Warriors Fought off the Spanish in Guam in 1616. I will provide the description below for you to read to get a better idea of what I'm intending, and you should be interested after reading such a weird title. I received a Guam CAHA grant for this project and so the excerpt below is from my grant proposal.

The artwork will be displayed in an exhibit sometime this fall. I'm not sure where. I might have a small exhibit in a few months of the just the artwork, perhaps at I.P. Coffee or a similar place. Then later around December I might have a more serious show of the pieces with more emphasis on the conceptual nature of the show.

I'll be writing more about this in the coming weeks, this idea is something I've had for many years and I'm excited to see it finally take shape in some way!


The Untold Story of the Chamurai: How Chamorro and Samurai Warriors Fought off the Spanish in Guam in 1616.

According to historian Michel Ralph Trouillot, “Any historical narrative is a bundle of silences.” Nowhere is this more true than in terms of Guam’s history, especially around the time when the Spanish colonization of Chamorros and the Mariana Islands first begins. We have known for centuries the Spanish side of the story, as they wrote letters and accounts, but the Chamorro side of that story is always tragically absent. Chamorros before the Spanish passed on history as oral history, now we’ve come to follow the more modern way, and so that Chamorro side of the story was forgotten and lost.

For years, so much of the feelings of inferiority, powerlessness and lack of recognition of the value of their own language and culture that Chamorros feel stems from this deafening silence with regards to their past. If after all, you believe that you had no control in your past, or have no past of your own, then you are one step away from believing that you have no future as well. During their colonization by the Spanish, Chamorros turned to legends and stories through which they would maintain their identity and histories, some of which we still pass on today. For this art project I would like to propose the creation of a new legend for Guam. I would combine creative arts with historical research and create a pseudo-museum exhibit which would feature “recently-discovered” historical materials which support that this legend truly happened.

This legend is of samurai warriors from Japan, who came to Guam during the years between the 147 year gap between when Ferdinand Magellan first stumbled upon Guam and when Pale’ San Vitores arrives and begins Guam’s colonization. The Japanese form an alliance with Chamorros in order to fight off the Spanish and prevent their eradication. This never-before-told story, like so many other tales of that era was lost when the Spanish came to power. Chamorros for centuries had no idea of this valiant tale of their victory in preventing the Spanish from colonizing their island in the early 17th century.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

5 Arrested in Gangjeong as Police Escalate Violence

Recently my friend Sung Hee Choi was released from being imprisoned for holding a banner in front of a construction site for a Naval facility in Gangjeong that she was protesting. The banner stated "Touch not one stone. Not one flower." She was imprisoned for 3 months.

I have written several posts about the struggle of the people of Gangjeong against the construction of a base in their small town in Southern Jeju which would destroy much of their beautiful ecosystem. If you'd like to learn more Save Jeju is a great website to start looking at.

Earlier today the police entered the village and arrested 5 people including Mayor Kang as construction began of the facility there. The Navy base there is being built by the South Korean Government but will also be used by US forces and the ships that dock there will be purchased from the United States (Aegis Destroyers). When I spoke to Mayor Kang last year when I visited Jeju he had much to say about how he did not approve with putting this facility on an island which touts itself as being such a pristine ecological jewel and "An Island of Peace."

We, the people of this island should determine what our fate should be. The geography of this island puts us at a very important crossroads between nations. We should make the choice to develop this island because of its beauty through eco-tourism and not through militarization, which would only make us a target…If we all fight, who will win? No one. We would be gone in three seconds. To survive we must pursue dialogue and seek co-existence, not seek to force one another."
Ann Wright, a well-known antiwar and peace activist (who visited Guam in 2009) is in Gangjeong right now and sent out this update earlier today:
"I’m in Kang Jeong Village on Jeju Island, South Korea and the sirens are blaring for citizens to come to the main gate of the Naval Base where construction is about to begin in an area that will destroy pristine lava fields and endanger marine life.

The siren sounds like a tsunami siren in Hawaii signaling an emergency. And that is what it is-4 activists were arrested two hours ago, including the Mayor of Kang Jeong, the cook at the camp and a member of SPARK and now 60 people have blocked front of the main gate of the base and many others at another gate.

Ten activists have locked chains around their necks and around each other and are sitting directly in front of a line of police at the gate. More arrests to follow no doubt.

will send more later.


Here is a video of the arrest of Mayor Kang.

For more updates check out No Base Stories of Korea which has plenty of info, links and pictures.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Not So Secret Guam Wikileaks

“The Not-So-Secret Guam Wikileaks”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
August 17, 2011
The Marianas Variety

Former Congressman Robert Underwood used to call Guam “The Rodney Dangerfield of the Pacific” because it never seems to get much respect from the Federal Government or from the United States in general. So when I first heard that there were Guam mentions in the much discussed and maligned Wikileaks archive of US State Department communiqués, I was certain that most of them wouldn’t be of any substance, but rather reflect the way Guam is often mentioned in American popular culture; as the butt of jokes. Eventually we learned that the details were very important and shed much light on how the Guam military buildup was or wasn’t really planned. They were salacious enough, although not in the silly way I had initially wished for. For your reading pleasure here are some of the not-so-secret Wikileaks Guam mentions that I imagined finding.

I was certain that several of them would simply be conversations where confused employees of the State Department debated what exactly Guam is or if it even exists. It wasn’t too long ago that a Chamorro woman in Texas had to argue that Guam exists and is a part of the United States in order to join a Federal program for childcare for her kids. She received a letter rejecting her because of the fact that being from Guam her children were not US citizens. When she called to let them know about the error, and that she had even provided their birth certificates, she was laughed at by a supervisor who told her that he had attended college and never heard anything about Guam being a part of the US.

I myself have had issues with Guam birth certificates and how they may not count as US birth certificates. Once, while my renewed passport was late arriving on Guam, I traveled to California using just my Guam birth certificate. On my return trip, I was to fly on Delta from Los Angeles to Honolulu, but was not allowed to fly since while the staff at Delta knew that Guam existed, they were nonetheless certain it was a foreign country and so my birth certificate did not prove that I was a US citizen. When I argued Guam was a colony and territory of the US, I was told to go call my embassy. When I responded that Guam doesn’t have one, I was told to call the US State Department to get evidence that Guam wasn’t a foreign country. Needless to say I didn’t fly until several days later. No doubt one of the Wikileaks was probably about my futile call to the State Department attempting to obtain a letter from Hillary Clinton saying that Guam is a part of the United States.

Perhaps the mentions were used in the way Guam was for a very long time in different parts of the Federal Government; as a place where careers are exiled to. Punishment for poor performance or incurring the wrath of a vindictive boss could get you a mythical transfer to the farthest and most isolated corners of America and its empire. Guam was for a very long time, prime real estate and a strategically important location amongst the list of places Federal employees did not want to be sent. Film buffs will remember for example the Guam mention at the end of the film Good Morning Vietnam. Robin William’s antagonist throughout the film played by the late J.T. Walsh is given his punishment for being the story’s sourpuss. What is his sentence? A transfer to Guam. “Guam sir?” he shrieks, “There’s nothing going on in Guam. Why Guam!?”

I had a bet that after someone at the State Department had screwed the diplomatic pooch, a conversation followed where someone was chided that surely the only place their career was heading now, is to Guam!

Last October, inboxes around the US were filled with a Guam story that seemed to be either a very late or very early April Fool’s prank or a poorly written news parody from The Onion. I was certain that Wikileaks would contain at least one mention about how the US was bombing Guam with frozen mice in order to kill snakes. How could people not talk about this story, which on the surface boggles the mind?

One of the saddest things about the actual mentions of Guam that came from the Wikileaks troves, was that when they were revealed on Guam they had little effect. Although the leaks showed that there were serious issues of deception and overall miscommunication between different Federal agencies over the Guam buildup and negotiations with Japan, it did little to affect people’s perceptions or opinions about the buildup or how the Department of Defense has or will be handling the issue. What is truly unfortunate is that people most likely would have cared more or been more enraged if the Guam mentions from Wikileaks had been of the caliber that I have joked about in this column.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Galaiden Mata'pang

Yanggen guaha lugat-mu agupa' gi pupuenge...

University of Michigan Associate Professor Vicente Diaz will present, "In the Wake of Matapang's Canoe: Alternative Histories of Chamorro Catholicism and its Opposition" on Tuesday, August 23 at 5:30 p.m. in the University of Guam CLASS Lecture Hall as the featured speaker in Robert Underwood’s Presidential Lecture Series.
Vicente M. Diaz, PhD, is Associate Professor of Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at the University of Michigan.
Born and raised on Guam, Diaz taught Pacific History and Micronesian Studies at the University of Guam from 1992 to 2001 until he relocated to his present post at the University of Michigan.

Diaz is a co-founder of the Guam Traditional Seafarers, which helped revived traditional canoe building and navigation in Guam, served as the historian for Hale'ta series of Guam history and civics books produced by the Guam Political Status Educational Coordinating Commission in the 1990s.
Diaz is published widely in the fields of Pacific history, anthropology, and cultural studies, and is currently an elected council member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), an international association of native academics and scholars who are advancing the field of comparative native studies. Of Pohnpeian and Filipino lineage, Diaz is the son of retired Judge Ramon V. and Josefina C. Diaz of Dededo.
The presentation is free of charge and open to the community. The presentation and will be followed by a question and answer session.

August 5, 1981

30 Years Ago Today: The Middle Class Died
Saturday 6 August 2011
by: Michael Moore

From time to time, someone under 30 will ask me, "When did this all begin, America's downward slide?" They say they've heard of a time when working people could raise a family and send the kids to college on just one parent's income (and that college in states like California and New York was almost free). That anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one. That people only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer.

That many jobs were union jobs, from baggers at the grocery store to the guy painting your house.

And this meant that no matter how "lowly" your job was you had guarantees of a pension, occasional raises, health insurance and someone to stick up for you if you were unfairly treated.

Young people have heard of this mythical time -- but it was no myth, it was real. And when they ask, "When did this all end?", I say, "It ended on this day: August 5th, 1981."

Beginning on this date, 30 years ago, Big Business and the Right Wing decided to "go for it" -- to see if they could actually destroy the middle class so that they could become richer themselves.

And they've succeeded.

On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who'd defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.

It was a bold and brash move. No one had ever tried it. What made it even bolder was that PATCO was one of only three unions that had endorsed Reagan for president! It sent a shock wave through workers across the country. If he would do this to the people who were with him, what would he do to us?

Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started -- a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person. The rich hated paying better wages and providing benefits. They hated paying taxes even more. And they despised unions. The right-wing Christians hated anything that sounded like socialism or holding out a helping hand to minorities or women.

Reagan promised to end all that. So when the air traffic controllers went on strike, he seized the moment. In getting rid of every single last one of them and outlawing their union, he sent a clear and strong message: The days of everyone having a comfortable middle class life were over. America, from now on, would be run this way:

* The super-rich will make more, much much more, and the rest of you will scramble for the crumbs that are left.

* Everyone must work! Mom, Dad, the teenagers in the house! Dad, you work a second job! Kids, here's your latch-key! Your parents might be home in time to put you to bed.

* 50 million of you must go without health insurance! And health insurance companies: you go ahead and decide who you want to help -- or not.

* Unions are evil! You will not belong to a union! You do not need an advocate! Shut up and get back to work! No, you can't leave now, we're not done. Your kids can make their own dinner.

* You want to go to college? No problem -- just sign here and be in hock to a bank for the next 20 years!

* What's "a raise"? Get back to work and shut up!

And so it went. But Reagan could not have pulled this off by himself in 1981. He had some big help:


The biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that's just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers -- they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly.

Reagan and Wall Street could not believe their eyes! Hundreds of thousands of working people and union members endorsing the firing of fellow union members. It was Christmas in August for Corporate America.

And that was the beginning of the end. Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything -- and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn't accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway.

And at every step along the way, the majority of Americans went along with this. There was little opposition or fight-back. The "masses" did not rise up and protect their jobs, their homes, their schools (which used to be the best in the world). They just accepted their fate and took the beating.

I have often wondered what would have happened had we all just stopped flying, period, back in 1981. What if all the unions had said to Reagan, "Give those controllers their jobs back or we're shutting the country down!"? You know what would have happened. The corporate elite and their boy Reagan would have buckled.

But we didn't do it. And so, bit by bit, piece by piece, in the ensuing 30 years, those in power have destroyed the middle class of our country and, in turn, have wrecked the future for our young people. Wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. Take a look at the statistics and you can see that every decline we're now suffering with had its beginning in 1981 (here's a little scene to illustrate that from my last movie).

It all began on this day, 30 years ago. One of the darkest days in American history. And we let it happen to us. Yes, they had the money, and the media and the cops. But we had 200 million of us. Ever wonder what it would look like if 200 million got truly upset and wanted their country, their life, their job, their weekend, their time with their kids back?

Have we all just given up? What are we waiting for? Forget about the 20% who support the Tea Party -- we are the other 80%! This decline will only end when we demand it. And not through an online petition or a tweet. We are going to have to turn the TV and the computer and the video games off and get out in the streets (like they've done in Wisconsin). Some of you need to run for local office next year. We need to demand that the Democrats either get a spine and stop taking corporate money -- or step aside.

When is enough, enough? The middle class dream will not just magically reappear. Wall Street's plan is clear: America is to be a nation of Haves and Have Nothings. Is that OK for you?

Why not use today to pause and think about the little steps you can take to turn this around in your neighborhood, at your workplace, in your school? Is there any better day to start than today?

P.S. Here are a few places you can connect with to get the ball rolling:

Main Street Contract for America
Showdown in America
Democracy Convention
Occupy Wall Street
October 2011
How to Join a Union by the AFL-CIO (they've learned their lesson and have a good president now) or UE
Change to Win
High School Newspaper (Just because you're under 18 doesn't mean you can't do anything!)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Translator's Vice

Every once in a while I seem to disappear from the face of the island.

People call my phone and I don't answer. Emails pile up and I don't respond to them. People don't see me in my usual places. My course work for classes is more abbreviated and rushed than usual.

If you ever notice this happen to me then rest assured I am not addicted to any drugs, nor have I taken up some new misanthropic new hobby. What has probably happened is that I've taken on a new translation project (from English to Chamorro), and I'm probably bunkered up in my office at home or at UOG, typing in frustrated bursts into my computer, and occasionally coming up for air by digging for some archaic word in my Chamorro-English dictionary. I sometimes take on projects like this in order to make some extra money, and just because I also find it to be an interesting experience.

So if it seems like I've been gone for a few days, I'm lost in translation yet again. I got a particularly large and unfortunately rushed project sitting in front of me on my computer and so for the next few days there isn't much time for anything else.

I'm not sure why, but after my last big project like this I painted an image which I titled "The Translator's Vice." Don't ask me what about the image below signifies that idea and don't ask me why I chose to name it such. I was probably exhausted from the translating and didn't have enough neurotransmitters left to come up with something more appropriate.

Here's the painting. Wish me luck in my translating.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Republican Truths, Stranger than Fiction

Crooks and Liars.com

If you witnessed the last GOP Presidential debate on Fox News, you witnessed a Republican field of candidates that have become a cross between the John Birch Society, the Moral Majority and Americans For Tax Reform. When Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed burst onto the scene via the College Republicans, they were considered the tea party of their day by both parties. Complete radicals who had insane ideas and weren't to be taken seriously. I mean, they really loved South Africa under Apartheid.

Fast forward 30 years and their ideas have become embedded into the heart of the GOP. Thomas Frank predicts much of what happened to Obama in interview with Amy Goodman back in August of 2008 because he understood their bag of tricks as well as anyone ever has, especially on deficit spending:
But the most insidious one, the most insidious scheme for permanence, the one that really strikes me, is the use of deficit spending by the right. OK, now, I don’t have a problem with deficit spending. You know, it’s — liberals have used it for decades very effectively. You know, it’s — if you’re a Keynesian — you know, it’s one of the tools that you use to, say, you know, get the country out of a recession or, you know, build low-income housing, or whatever it is that you want to do with the state, right? So, but the conservatives got into power in the early 1980s, and they’re handed this tool, the big old — you know, the power tool of deficit spending, and I’ll be damned, they run that sucker right into the ground, you know, and pile up the biggest deficit anyone has ever seen, short of, you know, World War II.
And what that does, that leaves the next administration to come along, which happened to be Bill Clinton, leaves him with this colossal Everest of debt that he has to deal with.
Sound familiar? This isn't a defense of Obama's decisions or actions, but a reminder what many of us talked about during the 2008 election. This is why history matters so much in politics, but it's something that the beltway media ignores as much as they can:
He was going to do this; he was going to do that. And there’s this very famous moment where his advisers sat him down in ’92, before he was sworn in, and told him, you know, “I’m sorry, you’re not going to be able to do any of those things, because the deficit is so huge that the only thing you’re going to be able to do as president, the only economic policy you’re going to be allowed to have, structurally permitted to have, is deficit reduction.” And we know about this, because then Clinton went on one of his famous, you know, tirades. He exploded in rage, you know. And anyhow, so — and now, look at Bush, doing the same thing, right? So even if Obama does get in, he’s not going to have any room to move, in terms of a progressive social agenda, you know.
The Birchers became a powerful influence in the GOP during Barry Goldwater's rise to popularity, but was ultimately defeated for the soul of the far right by the NRO's William Buckley, who feared that their lunatic beliefs would destroy the momentum that conservatism was gaining. Now that Rick Perry has entered the race, Robert Welsh's insane far-right paranoid beliefs have a new transmitter to the masses and even if he fails to win the nomination or be asked to be the VP, he'll do considerable damage to many Americans belief system.
Talking about beliefs, The Guardian's Hadley Freeman tries to explain the modern day GOP in her own way by describing them as a cross between Orwell's 1984 and the movie, It's a Wonderful Life. Proof of Republican "doublethink"
Anal vocalization is not the only explanation for much of the Grand Old party's (GOP) behaviour and pronouncements in recent days: rather, it is, I can exclusively reveal, currently engaged in a mash-up of 1984 and It's a Wonderful Life, two pieces of fiction created over 60 years ago, which goes some way to explaining the distinct smack of irrelevance to the party today.
Despite having been written by one of those dreaded European socialists, 1984 appears to be the guidebook for today's Republican contenders. Even aside from the crazed fascination with sex some of them have (the Iowa debate also provided a platform for Santorum to explicate, again, his theory that gay marriage is the same as polygamy, having presumably decided that his worn-down-to-the-nub rib-tickler that homosexuality is analogous to bestiality needed a bit of sprucing up) which would impress 1984's Junior Anti-Sex League, the frank use of doublethink has been if not quite impressive then certainly unembarrassed.
Doublethink is, according to Orwell, "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them … To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient …"
This is different from simply lying, which – as we live in what Tom Cruise once snarled is "a cynical, cynical world" – is expected from most politicians. Doublethink is looking at the truth and seeing just a reflection of one's desired self. It is the only explanation for Michele Bachmann's insistence that the credit downgrade was due to the raising of the debt-ceiling, even though it was largely, S&P said in its statement, because of her and her fellow tea partyists' "contentious and fitful" wrangling. She claimed on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that one should never "mess with the full faith and credit of the United States", and yet that is precisely what she did.
Bachmann has said that wives "are to be submissive to their husbands" and, as Sarah Posner wrote this week on Salon, this idea, of the woman being "the obedient helpmeet, the vessel for the children, the devoted mother and warrior for the faith" is "central to the faith of many evangelicals". Yet when asked about it directly in the Iowa debate and again on Sunday on NBC, Bachmann retranslated "submit" to mean "respect", even though one could argue that their meanings are if not diametrically opposite, then at least on the quarter angle. It's enough to make one sentimental for English reappropriation of the "refudiate" kind. But where Palin only seeks publicity, Bachmann is a far scarier proposition.
And don't doubt for a second that Mitt Romney isn't pandering to these elements too.
Perhaps the most blatant use of doublethink was Mitt Romney's self-serving claim last week that "corporations are people, my friend", which managed to be both deeply Orwellian as well as sounding like an offcut from It's a Wonderful Life. It doesn't even require a tiptoe of imagination, let alone a leap, to envisage Lionel Barrymore as evil Mr Potter cackling to James Stewart as poor George Bailey: "Corporations are people, George!"
Mitt Romney is the preferred candidate by the GOP bigwigs like Karl Rove and Charles Krathammer because the Teabirchers are so far right that he appears to be the only candidate that has a chance to win the general election, but they unleashed a beast that's not likely to roll over because they are true believers.
Doublethink is the inevitable result of a Republican party that has become so McCarthyite; where homophobia, anti-abortion beliefs, Christianity verging on the evangelical, disbelief in science and a refusal to accept that rich people should be taxed more are essential so as not to be accused of being a Rino (Republican in name only). And there is no colder proof of doublethink than the look of moral superiority on a candidate's face when they are describing their wholly immoral beliefs that exist purely to cause misery, such as an "unblemished record" of homophobic policies (Bachmann). Is this evil? It's dystopian.
Wiki's definition of Dystopian
is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, various forms of active and passive coercion.
That sounds about right.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Normal Becomes the Fearful

My summer ends tomorrow. It wasn't much of a summer because I had to teach the entire time and took on several other projects in order to get by, but it was nice not teaching 5 or 6 classes a week for two months.

I want to celebrate the end of the summer by watching some senseless movie tonight. I was thinking of Final Destination 5 . I've always been a fan of horror and suspense movies. When I say fan I don't mean that I particularly enjoy watching them, since a lot of the time I'm watching with my glasses off or watching events out of the corner of my eye. But I am always a fan of the simple plots and narratives that horror movies employ. Like any genre there are conventions and there are attempts to break those conventions. There are ways of citing older films, attempting to break into new territories. Alot of times horror and suspense films are simply taking an experience everyone is already used to and moving it into a new location where you can do the same things, but with different weapons, animals, monsters, accents, historical limits, ethnicities or even color schemes. Every once in a while a new formula is created or appears to have been created and often times it is a generational dynamic, with a new generation claiming that this vein of slasher film is distinct from the ugly actress, wooden acting, fake production values and red colored corn syrup of the past. Horror films always straddle an interesting line between in your face brutal morality, or the visceral metaphoric and literally punishing of characters for breaking norms or violating natural laws, and the simple instinct to shock and appall people who are watching.

What has always drawn me to the Final Destination films is the way they transform the landscape around us from something which we can take for granted, and see as being fundamentally neutral, a menagerie or random but harmless objects, into a menacing network of potential instruments of death. If I were in a Lacanian mode right now I would argue something about it meaning the symbolic network or the Big Other is revealed to not be the guarantee of your identity or your existence, as some benevolent helpful father figure, but rather a traumatic force which can turn on you at any moment. All humans are gamblers, where you see the world through whatever lens you see risk and danger. There are things that you trust to keep you safe and things you trust to not be dangerous and so you ignore or simply accept as there and nothing more. The Final Destination movies are a freaky reminder that whatever framework you create to understand those things is always limited and always insufficient. These movies are supposed to be scary, but they intend to turn the normal into the fearful.

Another reason why I want to watch Final Destination 5 tonight is because of the video below. It is meant to be a spoof of Save by the Bell starring the cast of the film, and not only is it gruesome and funny, but the song is so catchy as well.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Public Service Post #20: Guiya na Palao'an

Hu sen guaiya dandan Chamoru.

Whenever I'm asked what kind of music I enjoy, I can't really name many artists or styles that I really actually like that much, with the exception of Chamorro music. It doesn't really matter what kind of Chamorro music, so long as it uses the Chamorro language I always give it a chance. For instance I tend not to like country music, but I really enjoy Chamorro country music.

One of the saddest things about the direction of the Chamorro  language is that since it is declining in use and basically ceasing to be a living language, that means that its chances at adapting and taking of new life are limited. For example, there are Chamorro musicians out there making every type of possible music. But as they branch out and expand their interests and abilities, chances are very slim that they know the language and even slimmer that they have any interest in using the Chamorro language in the new styles that they are playing or composing in.

The start of the 20th century saw that Chamorros incorporate American country style music into their culture. They did this so even to the point of taking country music tones and using them until they became well known Chamorrita tunes. But after World War II, when Chamorros start to see themselves through the racial lens of the United States, and start to become strangers in their own island and feel the need to distance themselves from their own language and culture, we don't see the same process of adaptation and incorporation. While Chamorros take on in some small forms, rock, pop, R & B and other styles, we don't see anything come close to the way country was made Chamorro by Chamorros. Today, Guam is filled with every sort of musical group, yet we don't hear much indie rock or reggae or ska in the Chamorro language.

I hope that this will change. I always offer my own meager assistance to groups who want to compose a Chamorro song, usually in the form of translating something they are already working on. Unfortunately no one has taken me up on this offer yet. I hope that eventually someone will, but the problem remains that for music that appeals to younger generations songs in the Chamorro music are most likely to be perceived as alienating instead of appealing.

I was searching through my laptop for some song lyrics to post today and came across a silly song that I always love to sing along to. It's called Guiya na Palao'an which translates to "She's the Girl" or "That's the Girl." Many Chamorro songs about love are na'layo or heartbreaking tunes, but this song is more about the light-hearted aspects of unrequited or unreciprocated love. In it the singer laments the fact that everytime he says "hi" the girl he likes responds "hafa adai." And everytime she says "no" he says "hunggan." There is even a charming scene of the old style of Chamorro courtship (famaisen saina) where the boy (and his family) has to go and ask permission to see or marry the girl he is interested in.

The song is naturally a slightly modern version of that, where the singer, after meeting a lovely girl on the beach and wanting to see more of her, goes on his own to see her parents. The funniest part by far of the song is the response of her parents. Si nana-na kumeuntusi (Hafa Adai). "Her mother talked to me (Hello)." Si tata-na gumaluti (Ai adai). "Her father whipped/beat me (Oh no!)."

Here's the lyrics below with my translations.

"Guiya na Palao'an"
Sung by Johnny Sablan
Words and Music by Rick Cruz

Guiya na palao'an hu sen guaiya
She is the woman who I really love
Guiya na palao'an ti hu maleffa
She is the woman who I can't forget

Hu li'e' un palao'an gi fi'on tasi
A saw a woman along the shore
Ya ma'pos yu' nai ya hu tatiyi
And so I went and followed her
Sa' malago yu' na hu tungo'
Because I want to know her
Yan malago yu' na hu kuentusi
And I want to talk to her
Pues kahulo' gui' ya mamokkat
So she got up and walked
Gui' gi entalo i niyok
In between the coconut trees
Annai hu faisen ni' na'an-na
When I asked her for her name
Ai tumekkon ya dumilok
She bowed her head and knelt down

Kada ilek-hu "hi"
Everytime I say "hi"
Ilek-na "hafa adai"
She says "hello"

Ha bira gui' ya ha fana' yu'
She turned around and faced me
Ya ha sangani yu' ni' na'an-na
And she told me her name
Lao ti sina ham u apmam
But we couldn't stay together long
Sa' u gacha' ham Si tata-na
Or else her father will catch us
Pues hu faisen nai taimanu
So I asked her how
Nai na sina mabisita
Can she be visited
Ha bira gui' ya ilek-na (Mungga)
She turned around and said "No"
Sa' u fanlalalu i familia
Because her family will get mad

Kada ilek-na "no'
Everytime she says "no"
Ilek-hu "hunggan"
I say "yes"Kada ilek-na "no"
Everytime she says "no"
Ilek-hu "ombre fan"
I say "c'mon please!"

Pues Guahu yan botaro-ku
So with all my courage
Ma'pos yan mamaisen saina
I went and asked for her hand
Si nana-na kumuentusi (Hafa Adai)
Her mother talked to me (Hello)
Si tata-na gumaluti (Ai Adai)
Her father whipped me (Oh no)

Kada ilek-hu "ai"
Everytime I say "ow"
Ilek-na "atmario"
She says "crazy"
Kada ilek-hu "ai"
Everytime I say "ow"
Ilek-na "hu taga' hao!"
She says "I'll cut you!"
Kada ilek-hu "ai"
Everytime I say "ow"
Ilek-na "hu puno' hao!"
She says "I'll kill you!"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Manainaitai Yu'

I haven't posted anything in a couple days.

It's not because I haven't been writing anything lately, I've actually been writing plenty. Both for this blog, but also for other projects. I just haven't had time or energy to post anything. I've still kept up with  my Tumblr "I Pilan Yanggen Sumahi..." and I still tweet on Twitter. I've also been swamped with preparing a grant proposal for next month and the fact that school starts next week at UOG.

One thing which is also taking my time away from this blog is the fact that I've been trying to catch up on my summer reading this past week, even though the summer is almost over. I had a pile of books that I wanted to read but didn't get to most of them because I was too busy teaching, writing, taking care of my kids and starting a new relationship. But this past week I decided to set aside a good chunk of time to just relax myself and read for a while.

One of the first books I picked up was The Girl Who Played with Fire, the sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I had picked up The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo while I was in California in May and I was looking for something to read on the flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. With nothing much to do I was able to soak up the entire book before we landed. I chuckled as I read because an old lady sitting next to me on the plane had also started the book once the plane took off and while I finished the book in flight, she still had 300 or 400 hundred pages left to go when we landed.

I immediately bought the sequel when I got back to Guam, but only read the first few pages and would constantly put it down to continue later. Weeks past and my initial excitement with the characters, the writing and the trilogy of books itself had faded. Once that fire in me to finish the books had been extinguished I could only see The Girl Who Played with Fire has a massive time-wasting tome. It would no doubt be repetitive and drag on as parts of the first book had. With a great payoff in narrative terms, but still a lot of wading through parts that come to feel unnecessary or uninteresting very quickly. After getting through 30 or 40 pages I wasn't sure that this second book would be worh the invested of time or the eyeball moisture.

With a week to go until school starts I decided to take a leap of faith that the book would be worth it and started it the other day. My mission was to finish the whole book in 24 hours. While my excitement never ever reached the level at which it was during parts of the first book, The Girl Who Played with Fire was still worth it. And (spoiler alert) since the ending is so jarring as to give you literary whiplash, I am actually getting antsy about starting the third book in the Millenium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornet's Nest. I thnk I might actually go to Bestseller tomorrow to pick it up.

I did finish the book in lesss that 24 hours, and since I couldn't shut down my day just to read a 700 + page book, I ended up reading it all over the island: from a tattoo parlor in Tumon, K-Mart, my apartment, my girlfriend's place, DMV, Port of Mocha at the Micronesian Mall and several other places.

Let's see how many more books I can read before school starts.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Because Their Fathers Lied

They Died in Vain; Deal With It
Published on Monday, August 8, 2011
by CommonDreams.org

by Ray McGovern

Many of those preaching at American church services Sunday extolled as “heroes” the 30 American and 8 Afghan troops killed Saturday west of Kabul, when a helicopter on a night mission crashed, apparently after taking fire from Taliban forces. This week, the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) can be expected to beat a steady drumbeat of “they shall not have died in vain.”

But they did. I know it is a hard truth, but they did die in vain.

As in the past, churches across the country will keep praising the fallen troops for protecting “our way of life,” and few can demur, given the tragic circumstances.

But, sadly, such accolades are, at best, misguided — at worst, dishonest. Most preachers do not have a clue as to what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan and why. Many prefer not to think about it. There are some who do know better, but virtually all in that category eventually opt to punt.

Should we fault the preachers as they reach for words designed to give comfort to those in their congregations mourning the deaths of so many young troops? As hard as it might seem, I believe we can do no other than fault — and confront — them. However well meaning their intentions, their negligence and timidity in confronting basic war issues merely help to perpetuate unnecessary killing. It is high time to hold preachers accountable.

Many preachers are alert and open enough to see through the propaganda for perpetual war. But most will not take the risk of offending their flock with unpalatable truth. Better not to risk protests from the super-patriots — many of them with deep pockets — in the pews. And better to avoid, at all costs, offending the loved ones of those who have been killed — loved ones who can hardly be faulted for trying desperately to find some meaning in the snuffing out of young lives.

Best to Just Praise and Pray

Far better to pray for those already killed and those who in the future will “give the last full measure of devotion to our country.” In sum, by and large, American preachers are afraid to tell the truth. They lack the virtue that Thomas Aquinas taught is the foundation of all virtue — courage. Aquinas wrote (to translate into the vernacular) that all other virtue is specious if you have no guts.

Writer James Hollingsworth hit the nail on the head: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Like the truth.

Those who often seem to ache the most in the face of unnecessary death are mothers. Many mothers do summon the courage to say — and say loudly — ENOUGH. Yes, my son (or daughter) died for no good purpose, they are strong enough to acknowledge, painfully but honestly. He (she) did die in vain. Now we must all deal with it. Stop the false patriotism. And, most important, stop the killing.

Cindy Sheehan, whose 25 year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004, is one such mother. She and others have tried to put a dent into the strange logic that attempts to translate unnecessary death into justification for still more unnecessary death. But they get little air or ink in the Fawning Corporate Media. Rather, what you will hear in the days ahead from the FCM is well honed rhetoric not only about how our troops “cannot have died in vain,” but also that Americans must now redouble our resolve to “honor their sacrifice.”

President Barack Obama set the tone on Saturday:

“We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values they embodied.”

Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, also primed the pump for the FCM, saying Saturday, “All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom.”

And Joint Chiefs Chairman went even further in professing to know “what our fallen would have wanted” us to do — namely, “keep fighting.” Mullen added that, “it is certainly what we are going to do.” All this was duly reported in Sunday’s Washington Post and other leading U.S. newspapers —without much comment.

Over the next several days, TV viewers will get a steady diet of this kind of disingenuous logic from talk show hosts feeding on the grist from Obama, Mullen, Allen, and others. After all, many pundits work for news organizations owned or allied with some of the same corporations profiteering from war.

Too bad CBS’s legendary Edward R. Murrow is long since dead; and the widely respected Walter Cronkite, as well. Taking the CBS baton from Murrow, who had challenged the “red scare” witch hunt of Sen. Joe McCarthy, Cronkite gradually saw through the dishonesty responsible for the killing of so many in Vietnam. He finally spoke up, and said, in effect, any more who die will have died in vain.

(The very long hiatus between Cronkite and Scott Pelley, newly appointed “CBS Evening News” anchor, has been particularly painful. The jury is still out, but I harbor some hope that Pelley may try to follow CBS’s earlier, prouder tradition, if by some miracle his corporate bosses allow him to. Given today’s prevailing atmosphere of obeisance to Establishment Washington, Pelley certainly has his work cut out for him. We shall have to wait and see if he has it in him to take the risk of rising to the occasion.)

Corporal Shank & Specialist Kirkland

Five years ago I was giving talks in Missouri, when the body of 18 year-old Cpl. Jeremy Shank of Jackson, Missouri (population 12,000) came home for burial. He was killed in Hawijah, Iraq on September 6, 2006 while on a “dismounted security patrol when he encountered enemy forces using small arms,” according to the Pentagon.

Which enemy forces? Two weeks before Shank was killed, Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, acknowledged that the challenge in Iraq “isn’t about insurgency, isn’t about terror; it’s about sectarian violence.” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Makiki added, “The most important element in the security plan is to curb the religious violence.”

So was Shank’s mission to prevent Iraqi religious fanatics from blowing up one another? What do you think; was that worth his life?

On September 7, 2006, the day after Shank was killed, President Bush, in effect, mocked his unnecessary death by drawing the familiar but bogus connection between 9/11 and the “war on terror,” of which he claimed Iraq was a part. Bush said, “Five years after September 11, 2001, America is safer — and America is winning the war on terror.”

Flowery Funeral Words

Back at the First Baptist Church in Jackson, Missouri, Rev. Carter Frey eulogized Shank as one of those who “put themselves in harm’s way and paid the ultimate sacrifice so you and I can have freedom to live in this country.”

Correction: It was not Cpl. Shank who put himself in harm’s way; it was those who used a peck of lies to launch a bloody, unnecessary war — first and foremost, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, not to mention the craven Congress that authorized it and most of the FCM that led the cheerleading for it.

Was separating Shia from Sunni a mission worth what is so facilely called the “ultimate sacrifice,” or — for other troops — the penultimate one paid by tens of thousands of veterans trying to adjust to life with brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and/or missing limbs?

Despite the self-serving rhetoric about “heroes,” the young, small-town Shanks of America stand low in the priorities of Establishment Washington. They are pawns in the war games played by generals and politicians far, far from the battlefield.

Even in the Army in which I served, troops were often referred to simply as “warm bodies;” that is, at least before they became cold and stiff. But that term was normally not accompanied by the mechanistic disdain reflected in the memo by a Fort Lewis-McCord Army major that came to light last year.

On March 20, 2010, Specialist Derrick Kirkland, back from his second tour in Iraq, hanged himself in the barracks at Fort Lewis-McCord, leaving behind a wife and young daughter. Kirkland had been suffering from severe depression and anxiety attacks, for which he had to bear severe ridicule by his comrades.


As for his superiors, it was Army policy to do everything possible to avoid diagnosing PTSD. And so, Kirkland ended up becoming a new entry on a little-known statistical table; namely, the one that shows that more active-duty soldiers are currently committing suicide than are being killed in combat.

Not a problem for Maj. Keith Markham, Executive Officer of Kirkland’s unit, who put the prevailing attitude all too clearly in a private memo sent to his platoon leaders. “We have an unlimited supply of expendable labor,” wrote Markham.

And, sadly, he is right. Because of the poverty draft (aka the “professional Army”), more than half of U.S. troops come from small towns like Jackson, Missouri and the inner cities of our country. In both these places, good jobs and educational opportunity are rare to nonexistent.

I suspect that one factor behind the very high suicide rate is a belated realization among the troops that they have been conned, lied to — that they have been used as pawns in an unconscionably cynical game. I would imagine that corporals and specialists, as well as high brass like the legendary two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, often come to this realization belatedly, and that this probably exacerbates the pain.

Butler wrote “War is a Racket” in 1935, describing the workings of the military-industrial complex well before President Eisenhower gave it a name. It is not difficult for troops to learn that the phenomenon about which Eisenhower warned has now broadened into an even more pervasive and powerful military-industrial-corporate-congressional-media-institutional-church complex. Small wonder the suicide rate is so high.

And for what? Please raise your hand if you now believe, or have ever believed, that the White House and Pentagon have sent a hundred thousand troops to Afghanistan for the reason given by President Obama; namely, “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” the 50 to 100 al-Qaeda who U.S. intelligence agencies says are still in Afghanistan.

And keep your hands up, those of you who fear you might throw something at the TV screen the next time Gen. David Petraeus intones that wonderfully flexible phrase “fragile and reversible” to describe what he keeps calling “progress” in Afghanistan.

Troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan know better. It must be particularly hard for them to hear the lies about “progress,” and then be ridiculed and marginalized for having PTSD. It seems a safe bet that some of those have read Kipling, and on occasion wish they had found release by following his morbid advice — awful as it is:

“When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
And go to your gawd like a soldier.”

The Establishment Church

I added “institutional church” into the military-industrial-corporate-congressional-media-institutional-church complex coined above because, with very few exceptions, the institutional church is still riding shotgun for the system — and the wars.

I find that most men and women of the cloth avoid indicting “wars of choice,” even though such wars were quite precisely defined at the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal as “wars of aggression” and labeled the “supreme” international war crime). They know that in such wars thousands upon thousands die — civilians as well as military.

But then fear seems to walk in, for preachers all too often fall back on platitudinous, fulsome praise for those who “have given their lives so that we can live in freedom.” And, as the familiar phrase goes, they say/think, “I guess we’ll have to leave it there.”

And there continue to be relatively few outspoken folk like Cindy Sheehan, painfully aware that courage and truth are far more important than fear, even when that fear includes the painful recognition that the life of a beloved young son was ended unnecessarily. There are some who dare to point out that the mission given our troops has made us less, not more, safe at home, and ask what is so hard to understand about Thou Shalt Not Kill? The FCM ignores these Justice folks, so all too few know of what they say and do.

It is a curiosity that the Bible and the teachings of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, seem to have become OBE (overtaken by events) and no longer inform the sermons of many American preachers. Odd that the relevant teachings from this treasure trove seem to have become passé or, as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said of the Geneva Conventions, “quaint” and “obsolete.”

I have this vision of Stephen Decatur smiling from the afterlife as he watches more and more acceptance being given in recent years to his famous dictum: “Our country, right or wrong.”

Let me suggest that preachers consider drawing material from yet another source in thinking about the wars in which the U.S. is currently engaged. Instead of fulsome encomia for those who have made “the ultimate sacrifice,” they might be directed to Rudyard Kipling for words more to the point, if politically and congregationally incorrect.

Two passages (the first a one-liner) shout out their applicability to U.S. misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and — God help us — where next?

“If they ask you why we died, tell them because our fathers lied.”


“It is not wise for the Christian white
To hustle the Asian brown;
For the Christian riles,
And the Asian smiles
And weareth the Christian down.
At the end of the fight
Lies a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased;
And the epitaph drear,
A fool lies here,
Who tried to hustle the East.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).


Image comes from Gone to Guam.


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