Defining Dissent

Saturday March 22, 2009 anti-war protest march on the Pentagon. Photo credit: Bill Hackwell, ANSWERcoalition.org

Saturday March 22, 2009 anti-war protest march on the Pentagon. Photo credit: Bill Hackwell, ANSWERcoalition.org

We may not know quite how to define dissent, but we know we don’t like it when we see it.  War protests are a case in point.  It is not uncommon to perceive such demonstrations, no matter how nonviolent, as inappropriate and unpatriotic, especially when war first breaks out.  When Eugene Debs spoke critically of Woodrow Wilson’s war to make the world safe for democracy, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned for sedition.  The very act of speaking against the administration was treated as subversive.

This is a common attitude, not just a thing of the past.  Critics of the U.S. war on terror have been subjected to surveillance, harassment, and even prosecution.  As Geoffrey Stone warned in 2004, exploiting a threat to national security is a time-honored strategy of consolidating power by inflating public fears, inflaming patriotism, and condemning critics as disloyal (Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, p. 74).

The negative stereotype of dissent is not well aligned with its dictionary definition or its democratic purpose. (more…)

Democracy by Dissent

Sticker advocating dissent: "dissent develops democracy", accompanied by a peace symbol. Photo taken in Portland, Oregon, 2007.  (Jason Wilson / Wikimedia Commons)

Sticker advocating dissent: “dissent develops democracy”, accompanied by a peace symbol. Photo taken in Portland, Oregon, 2007. (Jason Wilson / Wikimedia Commons)

Early in the war on terror, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! made a telling point about journalism and dissent, a point well worth revisiting eleven years later.   She began by observing how mainstream media in the U.S. report the war as if they are state media rather than independent news organizations.  She asked why it is that networks keep retired generals on the payroll but not doctors or peace advocates.  Why is it that they show romanticized pictures of soldiers against a sunset or aircraft carriers at sunrise?  Why don’t they interview the war protesters rather than only feature politicians who make the case for war and generals who explain war tactics?  (more…)

The Cowboys and the Ring

Apache warrior Geronimo (right) and his warriors from left to right: Yanozha (Geronimos´s brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo´s son of 2nd wife) and Fun (Yanozha´s half brother) in 1886. (Arizona Historical Society)

Apache warrior Geronimo (right) and his warriors from left to right: Yanozha (Geronimos´s brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo´s son of 2nd wife) and Fun (Yanozha´s half brother) in 1886. (Arizona Historical Society)

What was true during the Indian Wars throws some light on the dark clouds surrounding our contemporary War on Terror.

An asteroid field of rascals and blackguards orbited the Tucson Ring like a diabolical emanation from the central star of a planetary system. John G. Bourke continues to explain in his On the Border with Crook (New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1891):

To disarm Indians is always an unsatisfactory piece of business, so long as the cowboys and other lawless characters in the vicinity of the agencies are allowed to roam over the country, each one a travelling arsenal. The very same men who will kill unarmed squaws and children … will turn around and sell to the bucks the arms and ammunition which they require for the next war-path.

The parallels with modern North American warfare history easily come to mind: (more…)

The Tucson Ring

Brushing Against, Little Squint Eyes, San Carlos Apaches, 1897. (Florn88 / Wikimedia Commons)

Brushing Against, Little Squint Eyes, San Carlos Apaches, 1897. (Florn88 / Wikimedia Commons)

We are still fighting the Indian wars, and we treat the rest of the world—with the possible exception of Europe—as if it were Indian Territory. In the pages of John G. Bourke’s ethno-history of the late nineteenth-century North American Southwest, On the Border with Crook (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891), we note the formation of a shadowy group in Arizona that was dedicated to the diabolical proposition that success in life is measured by profits:

[At Camp Verde] the prospects of the Apaches looked especially bright, and there was hope that they might soon be self-sufficient; but it was not to be. A “ring” of Federal officials, contractors, and others was formed in Tucson, which exerted great influence in the national capital, and succeeded in securing the issue of peremptory orders that the Apaches should leave at once for the mouth of the sickly San Carlos, there to be herded with other tribes. It was an outrageous proceeding, one for which I should still blush had I not long since gotten over blushing for anything that the United States government did in Indian matters. (216-217)

This relocation to Camp Verde was prompted by the earnings that would ensue from the selling of provisions to the federal government for the allocations promised to the Apaches. If the Indians ever became self-sufficient, the stream of federal funds would dry up. It was necessary for the Tucson Ring to insure that the Apaches remained wards of the government: (more…)

Obama at West Point: Transforming Militarism?

President Obama speaks to West Point graduates. (U.S. White House photo)

President Obama speaks to West Point graduates. (U.S. White House photo)

What should we make of President Obama’s West Point commencement speech?  Was it just a reiteration of war culture?  Or did it also contain a seed of change in U.S. foreign policy away from militarism?

When the president spoke to the Corps of Cadets four and a half years ago, on December 1, 2009, he announced a new war-fighting strategy and a surge of troops in Afghanistan but insinuated a peace-building attitude.  His purpose then was ambiguous.  It remained ambiguous on graduation day, May 28, 2014.

It is tempting to dismiss Obama’s professed commitment to peace as mere posturing, for the signs of war culture are manifest throughout his speech. (more…)

The Next Enemy

Undated file picture released Jan. 29, 2014, by the official Web site of Iraq’s Interior Ministry claiming to show Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. (Iraqi Interior Ministry)

Undated file picture released Jan. 29, 2014, by the official Web site of Iraq’s Interior Ministry claiming to show Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. (Iraqi Interior Ministry)

Where will we fight our next war?  This question was posed recently in a conversation with my sister-in-law about living in the war state.  My first thought was that the next war might pop up somewhere on the African continent.  After all, the U.S. Africa Command has been expanding as the administration’s chase after al Qaeda affiliates has migrated south.  My second thought, though, was about the assumption, embedded in the question, that America’s contemporary wars start and finish—one war is over before the next war begins—rather than war just continues, shifting from venue to venue.  The global war on terror is a nonstop affair.  It does not end, but it does possess a certain rhythm, an ebb and flow of featured enemies.  (more…)

Lose the Name Already!

Washington Redskins wordmark logo, introduced in 1972. (Sportslogo.net / Wikimedia Commons)

Washington Redskins wordmark logo, introduced in 1972. (Sportslogo.net / Wikimedia Commons)

Is it necessary, this late in the day, to say that the team name is racist? Is it essential to point out that the name and logo dehumanize my Indian grandchildren, and make us—the non-Indians, strangers in their own land—complicitous in keeping alive the ghost of centuries of genocidal policies, concentration camps euphemistically called “reservations,” and racial violence?

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On Waving Flags

Flag_of_the_United_StatesThe old veteran was describing, grimly and determinedly, the horrors of the Bataan March. (This was happening on TV, in a WW II documentary the name of which I don’t want to remember.) Not a shred of sentiment did he waste on his memories until the end of his tale. Then he spoke about the moment when USA forces, waving the American flag, rescued the Bataan POWs. At that moment he broke down, and wept like a young boy to finish his account:

“I tell you, I love that flag!”

I understand that. This was the very same flag which my father honored with his service in Vietnam. (more…)

War is Hell, But…

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21. Greutzner, along with five other soldiers, have returned to Iraq to visit forward operating bases to witness the changes that have taken since their injuries. They are part of a pilot program, "Operation Proper Exit." Greutzner was injured May 26, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy 15 miles north of Baghdad. (photo credit:  U.S. Army)

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21. Greutzner, along with five other soldiers, have returned to Iraq to visit forward operating bases to witness the changes that have taken since their injuries. They are part of a pilot program, “Operation Proper Exit.” Greutzner was injured May 26, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy 15 miles north of Baghdad. (photo credit: U.S. Army)

He was a medic, serving with the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He joined the National Guard soon after graduating from high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. On May 18, 2011, nine days before he was scheduled to return home, the blast of an IED mangled both of his legs and one arm. After a score of surgeries and 20 months in a rehabilitation facility, he and his bride got a “fresh start” in Bloomington, Indiana—the gift of a handsome house by a grateful nation, located in a pleasant neighborhood just three blocks from my home.

But it proved impossible to start over. The impact of the war on the Afghan children he had treated for burns troubled him. He became increasingly angry. His marriage failed. The pain from his wounds persisted.

He killed himself on April 22, 2014. (Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN, May 5, 2014).

Beyond a close circle of family and friends, Jacob Hutchinson is now another abstract casualty of war—a statistic. (more…)

Combative Patriotism

Patriotic Christmas light display in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA (photo by Pezow / Wikimedia Commons).

Patriotic Christmas light display in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA (Pezow / Wikimedia Commons).

The rush of patriotism. We’ve all seen it, perhaps even gotten caught up in it. It is a ritual of nationalism that enacts the story of America and the mythic vision of its special calling.

For many (perhaps most) who are U.S. citizens, there is something vital and irresistible, even right, about this public celebration of national identity, especially in times of crisis. Expressing pride of country brings us together, suggests a common past and shared purpose, reassures us that we will overcome adversity, that we are not alone in the face of danger.

Yet, the price we pay for this prideful rite is high. It makes us combative in our assertion of national identity. We define who we are as a people in opposition to an enemy. The rush of patriotism becomes an act of righteous indignation and polarization. It’s US against THEM—the United States vs. the World. It constitutes an attitude of war.

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