Archive for February, 2007

Ribbons and responsibility: questions for hawks and doves by Utah Phillips

February 20th, 2007

I spend a lot of time these days going to demonstrations and vigils, talking to people who support the war. They can be pretty threatening. But I always find there are people there–and I don’t mean policemen, but there are people there who will protect you. I don’t go there to shout or to lecture, but to ask questions. Real questions. Questions I really need answers to.

When I joined the Army, it was kind of like somebody that I had been brought up to respect, wearing a suit and a tie, and maybe a little older, in my neighborhood. Think about yourself in your neighborhood, and this happened to you. He walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, See that fellow on the corner there? He’s really evil, and has got to be killed. Now, you trust me; you’ll go do it for me, won’t you? Now, the reasons are a little complicated; I won’t bother to explain, but you go and do it for me, will you?

Well, if somebody did that to you in your neighborhood, you’d think it was foolish. You wouldn’t do it. Well, what makes it more reasonable to do it on the other side of the world? That’s one question.

Well, now hook it into this. If I was to go down into the middle of your town, and bomb a house, and then shoot the people coming out in flames, the newspapers would say, Homicidal Maniac! The cops would come and they’d drag me away; they’d say You’re responsible for that! The judge’d say, You’re responsible for that; the jury’d say You’re responsible for that! and they would give me the hot squat or put me away for years and years and years, you see? But now exactly the same behavior, sanctioned by the State, could get me a medal and elected to Congress. Exactly the same behavior. I want the people I’m talking to to reconcile that contradiction for themselves, and for me.

The third question–well I take that one a lot to peace people. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity going on around here, with the peace people who say, Well, we’ve got to support the troops, and then wear the yellow ribbon, and wrap themselves in the flag. They say, Well, we don’t want what happened to the Vietnam vets to happen to these vets when they come home–people getting spit on. Well, I think it’s terrible to spit on anybody. I think that’s a consummate act of violence. And it’s a terrible mistake, and I’m really sorry that happened. But what did happen? Song My happened; My Lai happened; the defoliation of a country happened; tons of pesticides happened; 30,000 MIAs in Vietnam happened. And it unhinged some people–made them real mad. And what really, really made them mad, was the denial of personal responsibility–saying, I was made to do it; I was told to do it; I was doing my duty; I was serving my country. Well, we’ve already talked about that.

Now, it is morally ambiguous to wrap yourself in the flag and to wear those ribbons. And it borders on moral cowardice. I don’t mean to sound stern; well, yes I do, but what does the Nuremberg declaration say? There’s no superior order that can cancel your conscience. Nations will be judged by the standard of the individual. Look, the President makes choices. The Congress makes choices. The Chief of Staff makes choices. The officers make choices. All those choices percolate down to the individual trooper with his finger on the trigger. The individual private with his thumb on the button that drops the bomb. If that trigger doesn’t get pulled, if that button doesn’t get pushed, all those other choices vanish as if they never were. They’re meaningless. So what is the critical choice? What is the one we’ve got to think about and get to? And, friends, if that trigger gets pulled–if that button gets pushed, and that dropped bomb falls–and you say I support the troops, you’re an accomplice. I don’t want to be an accomplice; do you?

And I don’t want to dehumanize anyone. I don’t want to take away anybody’s humanity. Humans are able to make moral decisions–moral, ethical decisions. What do we tell the trooper who pulls the trigger, or the soldier who turns the wheel that releases oil into the Persian Gulf, that they’re not responsible–just following orders, just doing their duty, have no choice–bypassing them, making them a part of the machine, we deny them their humanity, their responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions. Look, I’ve been a soldier. I don’t want any moral loophole. I need to take personal responsibility for my actions. And if we don’t learn how to do this, we’re going to keep on going to war again, and again, and again.

Utah Phillips (1992): from The Violence Within, I’ve Got To Know

General Lee keeps his sword, by Benjamin R. Tucker

February 16th, 2007

Taking generals as they go, I have always held Robert E. Lee in moderately high esteem, but, if Jubal Early tells the truth, this opinion must be revised and perhaps reversed. Trying to relieve Lee from that horrible aspersion on his character which attributes to Grant’s magnanimity at Appomattox Lee’s retention of his sword, Early declares that Lee and all his officers were allowed by the express terms of the capitulation to retain their side-arms, and further (citing Dr. Jones’s Personal Reminiscences of General R. E. Lee) that Lee once said to Jones and other friends, and in 1869 to Early himself, that, before going to meet Grant, he left orders with Longstreet and Gordon to hold their commands in readiness, as he was determined to cut his way through or perish in the attempt, if such terms were not granted as he thought his army entitled to demand. That is to say, General Lee, having determined it would be folly to make his men fight longer for his cause, made up his mind to surrender, but decided at the same time that he would cause his men to die by the thousands rather than submit himself and his officers to a slight personal humiliation. He was willing to swallow the camel, but, rather than stomach the gnat, he would murder his fellow-men without compunction. All considerations fall before superstition, be the superstition religious, political, or military. The art of war, on which government finally rests, has, like government itself, its laws and regulations and customs, which, in the eyes of the military devotee, must be observed at all hazards. Beside them human life is a mere bagatelle. Man himself may be violated with impunity, but man-made laws and customs are inviolably enshrined in the Holy of Holies.

Benjamin R. Tucker, Liberty, April 11, 1885.

This selection is reprinted from Instead of a Book, By A Man Too Busy To Write One, a collection of Tucker’s writings from his journal Liberty (1897).

More Troops, by Clay Bennett

February 5th, 2007

Here is a yellow ribbon formed into a Moebius strip, reading "Support Our Troops ... With Ever More Troops"

Clay Bennett (2007)

Link thanks to paulie cannoli 2007-01-31.

Peace Train: These are images of Tehran, Iran you don’t see every day…

February 1st, 2007

To view the movie, right-click and select Play from the menu. If you have any difficulties playing the movie on this website, try viewing it at the original website.

These are images of Tehran, IRAN you don’t see every day…

Video by Lucas Gray.
Music by Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam).

Link thanks to Austro-Athenian Empire 2007-02-01 and out of step 2007-01-29.