In formation

October 12th, 2009
Here is a photo from the back of a line of U.S. Army soldiers, standing at attention in fatigues. In the middle, a little girl is standing just behind the line, clutching one of the soldier's hands and crying into her other hand.

Paige Bennethum, 4 years old, wouldn’t let go of her father’s hand.

Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brett Bennethum, shown here with his daughter, is standing in formation at Fort Dix, just before being sent into the U.S. government’s occupation of Iraq.

(Via Tom Henderson, ParentDish (2009-10-07): Little Girl Can’t Let go as Sergeant Daddy Leaves For Iraq.)

Howard Zinn, introduction to “Bomb after Bomb”

December 19th, 2007

This is an introductory essay that social critic and historian Howard Zinn wrote for Bomb after Bomb, by elin o’Hara slavick, a collection of cartographic drawings–based on military surveillance imagery, aerial photographs, battle plans, maps, and mass media sources–of American aerial bombing campaigns. Zinn’s essay was reprinted in the December 15–16, 2007 issue of CounterPunch. It was brought to our attention by Mark Brady at Liberty & Power.

Perhaps it is fitting that elin o’Hara slavick’s extraordinary evocation of bombings by the United States government be preceded by some words from a bombardier who flew bombing missions for the U.S. Air Corps in the second World War. At least one of her drawings is based on a bombing I participated in near the very end of the war–the destruction of the French seaside resort of Royan, on the Atlantic coast.

As I look at her drawings, I become painfully aware of how ignorant I was, when I dropped those bombs on France and on cities in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, of the effects of those bombings on human beings. Not because she shows us bloody corpses, amputated limbs, skin shredded by napalm. She does not do that. But her drawings, in ways that I cannot comprehend, compel me to envision such scenes.

I am stunned by the thought that we, the civilized nations, have bombed cities and countrysides and islands for a hundred years. Yet, here in the United States, which is responsible for most of that, the public, as was true of me, does not understand–I mean really understand–what bombs do to people. That failure of imagination, I believe, is critical to explaining why we still have wars, why we accept bombing as a common accompaniment to our foreign policies, without horror or disgust.

We in this country, unlike people in Europe or Japan or Africa or the Middle East, or the Caribbean, have not had the experience of being bombed. That is why, when the Twin Towers in New York exploded on September 11, there was such shock and disbelief. This turned quickly, under the impact of government propaganda, into a callous approval of bombing Afghanistan, and a failure to see that the corpses of Afghans were the counterparts of those in Manhattan.

We might think that at least those individuals in the U.S. Air Force who dropped bombs on civilian populations were aware of what terror they were inflicting, but as one of those I can testify that this is not so. Bombing from five miles high, I and my fellow crew members could not see what was happening on the ground. We could not hear screams or see blood, could not see torn bodies, crushed limbs. Is it any wonder we see fliers going out on mission after mission, apparently unmoved by thoughts of what they have wrought.

It was not until after the war, when I read John Hersey’s interviews with Japanese survivors of Hiroshima, who described what they had endured, that I became aware, in excruciating detail, of what my bombs had done. I then looked further. I learned of the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, in which perhaps a hundred thousand people died. I learned about the bombing of Dresden, and the creation of a firestorm which cost the lives of 80,000 to 100,000 residents of that city. I learned of the bombing of Hamburg and Frankfurt and other cities in Europe.

We know now that perhaps 600,000 civilians–men, women, and children-died in the bombings of Europe. And an equal number died in the bombings of Japan. What could possibly justify such carnage? Winning the war against Fascism? Yes, we won. But what did we win? Was it a new world? Had we done away with Fascism in the world, with racism, with militarism, with hunger and disease? Despite the noble words of the United Nations charter about ending the scourge of war — had we done away with war?

As horrifying as the loss of life was, the acceptance of justifications for the killing of innocent people continued after World War II. The United States bombed Korea, with at least a million civilian deaths, and then Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, with another million or two million lives taken. Communism was the justification. But what did those millions of victims know of communism or capitalism or any of the abstractions which cover up mass murder?

We have had enough experience, with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders, with the bombings carried out by the Allies, with the torture stories coming out of Iraq, to know that ordinary people with ordinary consciences will allow their instincts for decency to be overcome by the compulsion to obey authority. It is time therefore, to educate the coming generation in disobedience to authority, to help them understand that institutions like governments and corporations are cold to anything but self-interest, that the interests of powerful entities run counter to the interests of most people.

This clash of interest between governments and citizens is camouflaged by phrases that pretend that everyone in the nation has a common interest, and so wars are waged and bombs dropped for national security, national defense, and national interest.

Patriotism is defined as obedience to government, obscuring the difference between the government and the people. Thus, soldiers are led to believe that we are fighting for our country when in fact they are fighting for the government — an artificial entity different from the people of the country — and indeed are following policies dangerous to its own people.

My own reflections on my experiences as a bombardier, and my research on the wars of the United States have led me to certain conclusions about war and the dropping of bombs that accompany modern warfare.

One: The means of waging war (demolition bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear weapons, napalm) have become so horrendous in their effects on human beings that no political end– however laudable, the existence of no enemy — however vicious, can justify war.

Two: The horrors of the means are certain, the achievement of the ends always uncertain.

Three: When you bomb a country ruled by a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant.

Four: War poisons the soul of everyone who engages in it, so that the most ordinary of people become capable of terrible acts.

Five: Since the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in war has risen sharply with each subsequent war of the past century (10% civilian deaths in World War I, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam, 80-90% in Afghanistan and Iraq) and since a significant percentage of these civilians are children, then war is inevitably a war against children.

Six: We cannot claim that there is a moral distinction between a government which bombs and kills innocent people and a terrorist organization which does the same. The argument is made that deaths in the first case are accidental, while in the second case they are deliberate. However, it does not matter that the pilot dropping the bombs does not intend to kill innocent people — that he does so is inevitable, for it is the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate. Even if the bombing equipment is so sophisticated that the pilot can target a house, a vehicle, there is never certainty about who is in the house or who is in the vehicle.

Seven: War, and the bombing that accompanies war, are the ultimate terrorism, for governments can command means of destruction on a far greater scale than any terrorist group.

These considerations lead me to conclude that if we care about human life, about justice, about the equal right of all children to exist, we must, in defiance of whatever we are told by those in authority, pledge ourselves to oppose all wars.

If the drawings of elin o’Hara slavick and the words that accompany them cause us to think about war, perhaps in ways we never did before, they will have made a powerful contribution towards a peaceful world.

Howard Zinn

Napoleon’s massacre at Alexandria

November 8th, 2007

This is an excerpt from a long letter home by Boyer, a soldier in Napoleon’s army during the campaign to conquer Egypt. Here, in his own words, is what happened when the French army reached Alexandria:

Admiral Nelson had been off the city on the noon of this very day; and proposed to the Turks to anchor in the port, by way of securing it against us; but as his proposal was not accepted, he stood on for Cyprus; while we, profiting by his errors, and turning even his stupidity to our own advantage, made good our landing on the 2d of July, at Marabou. The whole army was on shore by break of day, and Bonaparte putting himself at their head, marched straight to Alexandria, across a desert of three leagues, which did not even afford a drop of water, in a climate where the heat is insupportable.

Notwithstanding all these difficulties, we reached the town, which was defended by a garrison of near 500 Janizaries. Of the rest of the inhabitants, some had thrown themselves into the forts, and others got on the tops of their houses. In this situation they waited our attack. The charge is sounded—our soldiers fly to the ramparts, which they scale, in spite of the obstinate defence of the besieged: many Generals are wounded, amongst the rest Kleber—we lose near 150 men, but courage, at length, subdues the obstinacy of the Turks! Repulsed on every side, they betake themselves to God and their Prophet, and fill their mosques—men, women, old, young, children at the breast, ALL are massacred. At the end of four hours, the fury of our troops ceases—tranquility revives in the city—several forts capitulate—I myself reduce one into which 700 Turks had fled—confidence springs up—and, by the next day, all is quiet.

Later in the same letter, Boyer explains the considerations that, in Bonaparte’s mind, made it necessary to put Egypt’s innocent men, women, and children to the sword:

France, by the different events of the war and the Revolution, having lost her colonies and her factories, must inevitably see her commerce decline, and her industrious inhabitants compelled to procure at second hand the most essential articles of their trade. Many weighty reasons must compel her to look upon the recovery of those colonies, if not impossible, yet altogether unlikely to produce any of the advantages which were derived from them before they became a scene of devastation and horror; especially, if we may add to this, the decree for abolishing the slave trade.

To indemnify itself, therefore, for this loss, which may be considered as realized, the Government turned its views towards Egypt and Syria; countries which, by their climate and their fertility, are capable of being made the storehouses of France, and, in process of time, the mart of her commerce with India. It is certain, that by seizing and organizing these countries, we shall be enabled to extend our views still further; to annihilate, by degrees, the English East India trade, enter into it with advantage ourselves; and, finally, get into our hands the whole commerce of Africa and of Asia.

These, I think, are the considerations which have induced the Government to undertake the present expedition against Egypt.

This part of the Ottoman dominion has been for many ages governed by a species of men called Mameloucs, who, having a number of Beys at their head, disavow the authority of the Grand Seignior, and rule despotically and tyrannically, a people and a country, which, in the hands of a civilized nation, would become a mine of wealth.

Two US soldiers investigated for the rape of a 12-year-old Colombian girl

November 7th, 2007

From El Tiempo (2007-10-07): Investigan a dos militares de E.U. por violación de niña de 12 años en Comando Aéreo de Melgar:

Air Force Command, Melgar, Colombia

On Saturday, August 25, Second Sergeant Michael J. Coen and his personal security officer, César Ruiz, who are serving with Colombian forces based in Tolemaida and appointed under Plan Colombia, evaded security protocols of the main Colombian Air Force bunker in the municipality of Tolima.

According to testimonies collected by the local authorities – in which military intelligence also have participated – at 4 am on Saturday, August 25, the soldiers arrived at the Air Force Combat Center 4 (Cacom-4) checkpoint, and without getting out of their white truck, Ruiz, known as The Mexican, lowered his window a few centimeters, identified himself and they continued on their way.

The poor car inspection, aided by the darkened truck windows, allowed the two men to enter the military complex with a 12-year-old girl who they had met at a dance club four hours earlier in Melgar.

Confidential informants point out that the truck, with license plate number CTU-046, La Calera, was parked in front of the apartment that Ruiz was assigned three months ago. Ruiz is a US citizen of Mexican origin, now apparently retired from the US Army, registered with the US Embassy and a member of the group in charge of the personal security of US personal participating in the counter-narcotics operations in Colombia.

According to a confidential report, Ruiz loaned his apartment to Mango (Coen’s alias) so that he could carry out the illegal conduct.

According to the testimony of the minor, around 8 a.m. on Sunday August 26, The Mexican took the girl out in the same truck. During the drive he tried to seduce her as he caressed her intimate parts, not paying any attention to her protests.

Minutes later, he left her in Melgar’s main park, where there were witnesses present.

Delays and Transfers

The same day, the girl traveled to Bogotá with her mother, Olga Lucía Castillo Campos, and during the trip she related what had happened to her on the base.

The girl’s mother, an artisan crafts seller who has been accused of allowing her young daughters to roam the streets until all hours of the night, accused the two Americans in the middle of the street in full view of the public, but was ignored. So, she decided to resort to the authorities on September 8.

But she was not the only one. Once I knew about the violations, I also took the case to the appropriate authorities, said Colonel Luis Ignacio Baron, Commander of Cacom-4. The Colonel preferred to make no other comment.

According to Paola Rueda, a psychologist with the Melgar Child Services Office who evaluated the young girl, even though the formal complaint was delayed, creating some difficulty, the thorough medical examinations left no doubt that there had been sexual relations.

Even though the investigation is incomplete, all signs point to the fact that Sargeant Coen, protected with diplomatic immunity, has left the country. Ruiz is still in Colombia.

For now, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office is not denying that Coen could be requested for extradition in order to explain his participation in this act. According to Colombian law, sexual relations with a minor of less than 14 years is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and the convicted person is not eligible for sentence reduction based on confession of crime.

Since this past Thursday, El TIEMPO has made official investigations into this case with the US Embassy in Bogotá and an official spokesperson issued a denouncement of the act. Even though [El Tiempo] has consistently renewed their efforts, at the close of this edition, they have not yet provided any further commentary or answers.

Other Judicial Proceedings against US Soldiers:

  • Pornographic Videos: Three years ago, pornographic videos starring Melgar teenagers with US soldiers and technicians from the Tolemaida base were discovered. They were selling for 5 US dollars. The young girls had to leave the area.
  • Ammunition Trafficking: In May 2005, the Police arrested a US Sergeant and Technician in the outskirts of Melgar involved in the trafficking of 32,900 cartridges that were apparently intended for the guerrilla.
  • Cocaine Contraband: In May 2005, 5 US soldiers appointed under Plan Colombia, were arrested and accused of sending 16 kilos of cocaine hidden in a military plane, from the Apiay military base in Villavicencio.

El Tiempo (2007-10-07): Investigan a dos militares de E.U. por violación de niña de 12 años en Comando Aéreo de Melgar. Translation by FOR.

“Enola Gay,” by U. Utah Phillips

August 6th, 2007

Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Wave your hand
at the shining airplane
Such a beautiful sight is Enola Gay

It’s many a mile
from the Utah desert
To Tinian Island far away
A standing guard
by the barbed wire fences
That hide the secret of Enola Gay

High above the clouds
in the sunlit silence
So peaceful here I’d like to stay
There’s many a pilot
who’d swap his pension
For a chance to fly Enola Gay

What is that sound
high above my city
I rush outside and search the sky
Now we are running
to find our shelter
The air raid sirens start to cry

What will I say
when my children ask me
Where was I flying upon that day?
With trembling voice
I gave the order
To the bombardier of Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Your bright young eyes
will turn to ashes
In the blinding light of Enola Gay I turn to see
the fireball rising
My god, my god all I can say
I hear a voice
within me crying
My mother’s name was Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Oh when you see
the war planes flying
Each one is named Enola Gay.

U. Utah Phillips

Calvin and Hobbes: How Come We Play War?

May 14th, 2007

Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes (1986)

Wartime, by Lynda Barry

October 11th, 2006

Lynda Barry, Wartime, The Lynda Barry Experience (1992).

This is a story by cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry (b. 1956), from her 1992 album The Lynda Barry Experience. You should listen to her tell it; but here is what she says, if you need a transcription:

[Radio recording (December 8, 1941):]

Hello, NBC, this is Bert Silan, speaking from Manila, and this time I’ve got a real scoop for you. Manila has just been bombed! In fact, right now it is being bombed. And without warning. Japanese bombers started bombing Fort William McKinley, Nickels Air Field, and an RCA transmitting station. At nine minutes past three o’clock, without warning…

I knew stories about war before I knew the alphabet. My mother’s from the Philippines, and not only do I know exactly where she was when the first planes dropped bombs on her province, but I can see it, and I can hear it. It’s morning; she’s in the third grade. There’s the sound of the bell ringing for morning recess, the shouts of the kids in the schoolyard, and then the high hum of the engines that make everyone stand still for a second, and look up. Then–explosions! The planes are right overhead, diving and shooting, and the kids are everywhere, screaming and running from machine-gun fire that rips into a woman ten feet away, whose knees buckle as my mother runs past her. It happened to my mother, but I see it. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t. It comes back to me as a memory from my own childhood.

My mother says she never talked about the war when I was growing up. Oh God, she says, I’d never put you through it. Whether she knew it or not, she talked about it constantly. She has these scars, these round scars, that look sort of like a potato cut in half with a star pattern in the middle. When I was a kid, I had this idea that if I could just rub enough Jergens lotion on them, I could make them go away. The second I’d touch them, she’d always start talking about the war. Her stories became my dreams at night–recurring nightmares that always began with that high humming sound of the planes approaching. I knew the sound because whenever certain planes would fly over our house, my mother would freeze. There, she’d say, Right there. That’s the sound.

And like many children of parents who barely survived the war, I lived with her involuntary envy of my peaceful childhood. I lived with the guilt of having it. Her unbelievable shouts of, If I had known my life was going to turn out like this, I would have let the Japanese kill me! were echoed in the homes of Jewish kids I knew whose parents shouted things like I didn’t survive the camps for this! In our homes, the war never ended.

So when the question is calmly put to our president of how long will this upcoming war last, I feel like screaming–I know how long it lasts. I know a five day war can last three generations. And I know that it’s already begun. Without a single shot being fired, families of the soldiers being stationed in the Gulf are already being torn apart in ways that can never be repaired. There are kids sitting at their desks in school trying to cope with the most primal and devastating terror a child can face. Parents and husbands and wives of those soldiers are walking around this country in a daze while the clock ticks toward a ridiculously arbitrary deadline.

War becomes a part of our a DNA. It’s passed on to our children and on to our children’s children. It disfigures everything it touches. How dare anyone purposefully bring it into our lives when other options still remain.

[Television recording of George H. W. Bush (January 16, 1991):]

Just two hours ago, Allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak. Five months ago, Saddam Hussein started this cruel war against Kuwait. Tonight, the battle has been joined. As our forces fight, they and their families are in our prayers. May God bless each and every one of them, and may He continue to bless our nation, the United States of America…

Learning, by Utah Phillips

October 6th, 2006

Standing in the alleys of Yongsan,
I wonder if Pyongyang looks the same:
everything broken, endless mud,
children, searching for someone.
Tomorrow the looking will end,
and the begging will begin.

Soldiers move briskly, confidently,
among the ruins
of what we have done to each other.
We did it,
not because wanted to,
but because we were told to.

Well, it’s done now.
Tomorrow I’ll go home
to where the tellers are.
If there’s any purpose
to what I’ve done here,
it is the certainty
that I will never again
do what I am told.

Utah Phillips, Learning, on I’ve Got To Know (1992)

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Danziger: One man’s collateral damage

August 23rd, 2006

Here is a drawing of a Lebanese man wailing as he cradles a dead boy in his arms. The caption reads: "One man's collateral damage is another man's son."

Jeff Danziger (2006-08-02)

This is called pacification.

July 24th, 2006
photo: Mother fleeing Tyre

Tyler Hicks/New York Times (2006)

Hundreds of people today poured in to Tyre, Lebanon, chasing a rumor that a U.N. evacuation ship would come.

TYRE, Lebanon, July 20 — … The morbid reality of Israel’s bombing campaign of the south is reaching almost every corner of this city. Just a few miles from the Rest House hotel, where the United Nations was evacuating civilians on Thursday, wild dogs gnawed at the charred remains of a family bombed as they were trying to escape the village of Hosh, officials said.

Officials at the Tyre Government Hospital inside a local Palestinian refugee camp said they counted the bodies of 50 children among the 115 in the refrigerated truck in the morgue, though their count could not be independently confirmed.

Abdelmuhsin al-Husseini, Tyre’s mayor, announced on Thursday that any bodies not claimed in the next two days by next of kin would be buried temporarily in a mass grave near the morgue until they could receive a proper burial once the fighting ends.

… With the roads and bridges to many surrounding villages bombed out, few families have come to the hospital to claim their dead.

Even if they could make the journey, they would fear being hit by airstrikes along the way, Mr. Husseini said. Emergency workers have been unwilling to brave the risk of recovering many bodies left along the road, leaving them to rot.

For those relatives who reach the morgue, conducting a proper burial is impossible while the bombing continues. Many have opted to leave the bodies at the morgue until the conflict ends.

The morgue has had to order more than 100 coffins with special handles to make it easier to remove them from the ground to be reburied later.

What? He wants a hundred? a local carpenter said, half shocked, half perplexed. Where the hell am I going to get enough wood to build that many coffins?

… A pall overtook Tyre on Thursday, as United Nations peacekeepers loaded more than 600 United Nations employees, foreigners and Lebanese onto a ferry to Cyprus, then promptly packed up their makeshift evacuation center at the Rest House and left for their base in the town of Naqura.

Hundreds descended on the hotel on Wednesday, desperate to board the ferry. Despite fears that many would be left behind, almost all who sought refuge were able to board the ship Thursday.

But as the last United Nations peacekeepers left town on Thursday, those who remained braced for an even heavier bombardment.

For Ali and Ahmad al-Ghanam, brothers who have taken shelter in a home just a few blocks from the morgue, the refrigerated truck of dead bodies is a vivid reminder of the attack that killed 23 members of their family.

When Israeli loudspeakers warned villagers to evacuate the village of Marwaheen last Saturday, the families packed their belongings and headed for safety. More than 23 of them piled into a pickup and drove toward Tyre, with the brothers trailing behind. Another group set off for a nearby United Nations observation post, but were promptly turned away.

As the pickup raced to Tyre, Ali al-Ghanam said, Israeli boats shelled their convoy, hitting the car and injuring the women and children in the back. But within minutes an Israeli helicopter approached the car, firing a missile that blew the truck to pieces as the passengers struggled to jump out, he said.

His brother Mohammad, his wife and their six children, were killed instantly along with several of their relatives. The only survivor in the car was the brothers’ 4-year-old niece, who survived with severe burns to much of her body.

Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times (2006-07-21): In Scramble to Evade Israeli Bombs, the Living Leave the Dead Behind