Letter to an American Hero

This letter is being sent to PFC Bradley Manning at the following prison address in Kuwait. For obvious reasons, I’ve left my return address off this posting.

Inmate PFC Bradley Manning
TFCF – Theater Field Confinement Facility
APO AE 09366 USA

Dear PFC Manning:

The New York Times just reported on 92,000 classified military field reports from Afghanistan that graphically underscore what a demoralizing mess that war is. The leaked material has stirred new opposition in Congress to funding the war, and WikiLeaks is now seen by many as a much needed instrument to crack open the grip that secrecy has on the truth in America.

On the other side, there are powerful enemies. General James Mattis told a Senate confirmation hearing for his new job as Commander of Central Command that the leak was “an appalling act.” But then he assured the senators the leak revealed “nothing new.”

The point is such leaks are finally fueling robust debate over the war in Afghanistan. And the leak you are alleged to have made that resulted in WikiLeak’s web video “Collateral Murder” was the beginning of it all.

The Long War: Just Say 'No'

Military violence has such a death-grip on national policy in America, it’s hard for citizens to grasp there are real alternatives to war.

Marine General James Mattis, the man appointed by President Obama to replace General David Petraeus as leader of the Central Command that oversees all US operations in the Iraq/Afghanistan theater, is a colorful case in point.

Mattis is famous for his tough guy statements. My favorite is: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

His most quoted remark is about how much fun killing is, specifically referring to killing Afghan men who slap their women around.

“You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

Long wars, violence and change in America

It’s tough these days being a non-violent peace activist. Many see the notion of “peace is the way” as laughable, and the government equates peace with military domination.

The bi-partisan War Party in America won’t budge from its imperial wars despite majority polls and protests urging they do so. The right-wing base continues to narrow its range of toleration on everything. And the courts come down on the side of corporations, state power and a culture that has elevated guns into a religion.

I’ve worked in the peace movement for 30 years, and I believe in non-violently speaking truth to power. But the prospects for peace have never seemed gloomier or the situation more absurd.

Holding our soldiers accountable

The US Army is holding Specialist Bradley Manning incommunicado in Kuwait on charges of leaking to WikiLeaks video of Apache helicopter pilots gunning down two Reuters cameramen and a number of Iraqis in a Baghdad neighborhood. The video is devastating in what it reveals about cold-blooded hi-technology warfare in a place like Baghdad. See it at: http://www.collateralmurder.com/

WikiLeaks has arranged for three pro-bono lawyers to assist Manning in his case. However, Manning must request they be allowed to see him. Since the Army will not inform Manning of their existence, he cannot ask for them to see him. Joseph Heller would love it, a perfect Catch 22.

It's the war, stupid

Following the tidal wave of media buzz over General Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone, you quickly notice the story succumbing to the gravity of our media-circus culture, to the point it has become a story about celebrity and score keeping.

Would Obama fire McChrystal? How will the scandal tarnish the various individuals mentioned: US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke National Security Advisor James Jones? Who will come out on top of the heap and who will be banished into oblivion?

The real, existential questions about the war in Afghanistan that should be discussed in our highest public forums are somehow always lost in the excitement of watching careers on the high wire.

 From left, General Petraeus, Admiral Mike Mullen, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, President Obama and James JonesTeam Obama: From left, General Petraeus, Admiral Mike Mullen, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, President Obama and James Jones

All modern scandals, some renowned person has said, can be reduced to someone blurting out the truth. That describes this Olympian dust-up perfectly. But what might have been a fantastic opportunity to dig deeper into the truths revealed has apparently been lost.

Truth through a soda straw

The truth about American politics is this: disguised by the theatrics of squabbling Democrats and Republicans, Washington governs according to limits prescribed by a fixed and narrow consensus. The two main parties collaborate in preserving that consensus. Doing so requires declaring out-of-bounds anything even remotely resembling a fundamental critique of how power gets exercised or wealth distributed.
-Andrew Bacevich

Barack Obama has two serious leak problems.

One is a real leak — of oil from the bowels of the Earth into the Gulf of Mexico and onto the shores of the Gulf States. The other is a metaphoric leak — of information from the vast reservoir of secrecy our military and its wars have become.

Dishonesty, the notion of “too big to fail” and Bacevich’s consensus are at the core of both leak problems.

Milo Minderbinder in Afghanistan

1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder
“We’re gonna come out of this war rich!”

Yossarian
“You’re gonna come out rich. We’re gonna come out dead.”

-From the Buck Henry screenplay of Catch 22

No one has captured the absurd spirit of US war-making better than Joseph Heller in Catch 22. Here’s one of the greatest literary symbols for capitalism, Milo Minderbinder, on the future of US warfare:

“In a democracy, the government is the people,” Milo explained. “We’re people, aren’t we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”

In the Israeli minefield

It’s like entering a minefield to seriously discuss Israel and Palestine, a tale of two peoples who claim the same land.

I’ve entered this minefield before and have been called an ”anti-semite” and an “Israel hater” for saying pretty much what the sentence above suggests, that Palestinians feel a legitimate bond with the land Israel claims and holds with its military prowess. The individual who called me those names is an antiwar liberal on everything but Israel, at which point he becomes a jackboot militarist without a shred of mercy.

Unless otherwise directed …

I’ve worked in journalism for 35 years. I did graduate study in journalism, I’ve worked as a daily newspaper reporter and I’ve freelanced magazine articles and newspaper op-eds. Now I blog.

I’ve learned that certain ideas are not permitted in the mainstream press. Well-paid gatekeepers might say these ideas are misguided, wrong or irresponsible, but that’s not really the reason. It’s because certain ideas are not in alignment with the middle-brow assumptions our mainstream press operates within. It also has to do with a commercial inclination for celebrity journalism and a fetish for scorekeeping over analysis.

Here’s a personal example. For three weeks, since the Times Square bombing attempt, I’ve been in a back-and-forth exchange with the op-ed editor of a major city newspaper over a 900-word piece focused on the motivations of would-be bomber Faisal Shahzad.