Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

US Diary: war stories (what with Memorial Day and all)

1. Did Bush’s "Bring it On" Bravado Bring On the Haditha Massacre: Iraq’s My Lai? -- by Tom Turnipseed

In a rather subdued effort to rally support for their war of choice as questions arise about their continued tenures in office, a somewhat contrite and stammering President George W. Bush and his war weary, but ever slick talking side-kick, Prime Minister Tony Blair held a joint White House press conference Thursday evening. Due to the increasingly virulent insurgency that has turned their Iraq War game into a costly debacle, their once cocky cheer-leadership is now critically challenged by a credibility crunch with the voters of the U.S. and the U.K.

When asked if they had made any mistakes in the Iraq War, Bush twisted his head, stretched his neck and looked up and away from the eyes of the press corps who have heard so many previous denials of responsibility for his costly miscalculations. Then our self-described, God directed, great decider actually admitted that he had acted like a "cowboy" when he laid down the gauntlet to Iraq insurgents in 2003 to "bring it on". He added it was also a mistake for him to have repeatedly railed that he wanted to get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive". Commenting on the prisoner torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, Bush said it was, “the biggest mistake that’s happened so far, at least from our country’s involvement in Iraq.” Bush said "I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner", and it was "kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people."

Since Bush is the commander in chief of all U.S. military forces, I wonder if such Rovian, red meat for red states, ranting by Bush might have "sent the wrong signal to people" like the U.S. Marines who are now under investigation for massacring two dozen innocent civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha, Iraq. Haditha has been a hotbed for Sunni insurgents. In a post press conference analysis, Bush was praised for his candor in admitting the mistake by Chris Matthews on MSNBC along with other talking heads of our media elite. The New York Times reported on May 26 that the Marines "carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians", according to Congressional, military and Pentagon officials. I wonder if Matthew’s panel of pontificators would praise the Marines for systematically killing innocent men, women and children in Haditha, who could have been acting in response to the irresponsible “bring them on” rhetoric of their cowboy commander-in-chief?

Evidently, the first official report from the military on Nov. 20 about the Haditha massacre was a total cover-up. The truth was indeed a casualty of war when the report said that "a U.S. marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb" and that "immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire". Evidence now indicates the civilians were killed during three to five hours of a search and destroy sweep and “included shootings of five men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint, and killings inside at least two homes that included women and children, officials said”, according to the NY Times..

The NY Times also reported that Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, of Minnesota, said "this was not an accident. This was direct fire by marines at civilians. This was not an immediate response to an attack. This would be an atrocity." Kline is a retired Marine colonel. Last week Marine Corps officers briefed members of Congress and again on Wednesday and Thursday because of their dismay at the part marines played in executing innocent civilians. The killings were said to be “methodical in nature”. Attorneys involved in the investigation revealed that the capital crime of murder might be charged in the most grievous case of misconduct by the U.S. military in Iraq. Another inquiry intends to find out if the atrocities were deliberately covered up.

The LA Times said, “Photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed... unarmed Iraqis, some of them "execution-style," in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha. A spokesman for Human Rights Watch, Marc Garlasco, said, “What happened at Haditha appears to be outright murder”, and, “the Haditha massacre will go down as Iraq’s My Lai”.

The Abu Ghraib regret by Bush is also very interesting, given his “Bring it On” and “Dead or Alive” rhetoric and his administration’s promulgation of policies that even encouraged such heinous and inhumane conduct. Recently, the United Nations Committee Against Torture sharply criticized the United States for its rendition policies regarding captives it labels “terrorists”. The Bush administration has denied any illegality or wrongdoing in conceiving and carrying out such torture techniques. The Committee denounced our sending suspected terrorists to overseas secret prisons in countries where torture is commonplace. The Abu Ghraib scandal involves siccing dogs on suspected terrorists, sexual humiliation, and frightening them with drowning, and the U.N. Committee mentioned and specifically condemned such types of torture.

American voters disapprove of our cowboy President’s “Bring it On” bravado that brought on such atrocities as Haditha and Abu Ghraib. Bush’s low 30s approval ratings in recent polls are almost as low as Blair’s 26% in Britain. Blair, who fancied himself as another Churchill is expected to be forced to resign due to Iraq within a year. Bush, who now compares himself with Harry Truman, could suffer the fate of Richard Nixon, or worse, if the Democrats win control of Congress.

(Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and political activist in Columbia, South Carolina.

2. "My Soldiers, My Veterans" -- by John Nichols

The wisdom of wars can be debated on any day, and this column has not hesitated to question the thinking -- or, to be more precise, the lack of thinking -- that has led the United States to the current quagmire in Iraq.

But on Memorial Day, it is well to pause from the debate to remember those whose lives have been lost, not merely to the fool's mission of the contemporary moment but to all those battles – noble and ignoble – that have claimed the sons and daughters of this and every land.

After the bloodiest and most divisive of America's wars, the poet Walt Whitman offered a dirge for two soldiers of the opposing armies -- Civil War veterans, buried side by side. His poem is an apt reminder that, when the fighting is done, those who warred against one another often find themselves in the same place. It is appropriate that we should garland each grave, understanding on this day above all others that wars are conceived by presidents and prime ministers, not soldiers.

It is appropriate, as well, and perhaps a bit soothing, to recall Whitman's wise words:

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they are flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.)

And nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,
('Tis some mother's large transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

3. Honor the Fallen, Not the War -- by James Carroll

Today's observance has its origins in the laudable impulse to memorialize those who died in the nation's wars. Because that impulse is tied to grief, however, the remembering is narrow. Its object is ``honor" and so the past is glorified, as the graves of the fallen are decorated on Decoration Day. Because it is natural to regard those who died in war as heroes, it can seem necessary to affirm the wars themselves as heroic, too. The decoration extends to martial rhetoric. This is a human response, dating at least to Homer, but such remembering results, ironically, in a kind of amnesia. The true condition of war -- what continually leaves battle-scarred survivors opposed to war -- is readily forgotten.

In the 20th century, two occurrences initiated a broad change in consciousness. Industrialized war so devastated the populations of the battle zones that they found it impossible to resume the ancient habit of glorification. The past would be remembered differently.

Germany and Japan, in particular, emerged as pacifist nations -- an extraordinary turn. But, secondly, when nuclear weapons entered the story, the future was transformed, too. Traditional notions of proportionality and civilian immunity were obliterated. For the first time, large numbers of humans began to insist that a world without war was not only possible but mandatory. The most respectful way to memorialize the war dead was to deny that they had to be succeeded.

But during the Cold War this discussion became framed as debate between tough-minded ``realists" and soft-headed idealists. Across a generation, the realists seemed to have the better of the argument, but when that era of jeopardy ended non violently, it was the idealists (the democracy movements in the East, the peace movements in the West) who turned out to have perceived what was truly real. The national security establishments on both sides of the Iron Curtain, presiding jointly over the manufacture of more than 100,000 nukes -- to cite only their most egregious mistake -- had fatally undermined the very notion of security. That the world survived that mad competition had nothing to do with what realists perceived or proposed.

Lately, in Washington, they have been at it again, insisting that new threats (if not communists, terrorists; if not dominoes, oil) justify going to war. But once more, the true face of war has efficiently shown itself. The true meaning of national security is apparent, too. Confronted with challenges from malevolent antagonists, the realists had wildly exaggerated what such enemies were capable of. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden posed real dangers, but not remotely what realists warned of, and not what they then went after. The realists, that is, missed what was real. With their war in Iraq, in the context of their global war on terrorism, they created new conditions of national insecurity that surpass any damage of which Saddam or bin Laden were capable. An Arab world enflamed against America. Muslims seeing in us a mortal enemy. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated. Other nations (not only Iran and North Korea, but perhaps Russia and China) girding for battle against us. On the ground in Iraq, the full meaning of such consequences is blood red -- Iraqi blood, American blood. As always, the first penalty for the failures of such realism is paid by the dead.

This Memorial Day, especially, we yearn to honor the more than 2,700 US soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is the proper way to remember them? Even in condemning what made it necessary, can we not acknowledge the selflessness of their sacrifice? At Troy, soldiers were roused to battle by the promise that their exploits would be sung of far into the future. Is it a betrayal of our soldiers that we no longer want to sing? Does it mean they died ``in vain" if we insist that no one else should die?

Perhaps on Memorial Day we can also remember alternative hopes. Not soft-headedness, but tough-minded measures required to build a different world.

What if we invested as much in preventing war as in the fighting of it? (What, say, would the Middle East be if the billions spent in Iraq had funded instead a new Palestinian economy?)

Changes in the way we memorialize the past make possible changes in the way we envision the future. But here, too, it is the sacrifice of soldiers that makes possible such change. Indeed, it begins with them. The fallen heroes remind us with their lives that war must stop.

(James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Boston Globe.)

4. Political Amnesia Is the Enemy -- by Danny Schechter

We all know, all of us in America anyway, that Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer. It's about the downtime ahead, the vacation that's coming, the shutting down of the serious in anticipation of fun in the sun.

Officially, it is also about honoring the dead, and there will be parades by veterans and flags flying on TV newscasts. Most of it is set in the present with little referencing of the past or memory itself.

Memories work on us on every level, especially when they slip out of mind. A memory exhibit at San Francisco's Exploratorium museum touches on the usual: "You get to school and realize you forgot your lunch at home. You take a test, and you can't remember half the answers. You see the new kid who just joined your class, and you can't remember his name. Some days, it seems like your brain is taking a holiday -- you can't remember anything!"

But memories are not just individual properties. Societies have memories, or should. And our news world and information technologies could or should have the capacity to keep us in touch with our collective memory, our recent history, the only context in which new facts find meaning.

I like to joke about my own "senior moments," but cultures have them too -- and often, not always by accident. In our culture, it is often by design. The frequent references we hear to "political amnesia" is not just commentary but an allusion to a social pathology, a deliberate process of actually disconnecting us from our past and history.

The blogger Billmon writes: "I don't know if it's a byproduct of decades of excessive exposure to television, the state of America's educational system, or something in the water, but the ability of the average journalist -- not to mention the average voter -- to remember things that happened just a few short months ago appears to be slipping into the abyss. "If this keeps up, we're going to end up like the villagers in "One Hundred Years of Solitude," who all contracted a rare form of jungle amnesia, so virulent they were reduced to posting signs on various objects -- 'I AM A COW. MILK ME' or 'I AM A GATE. OPEN ME' -- just so they could get on with their daily lives."

A 1991 science fiction film called Total Recall pictured political amnesia, in the words of Michael Rogin as "an essential aspect of the 'postmodern American empire.'"

A book by Andreas Huyssen takes another tack, arguing, "Rather than blaming amnesia on television or the school, "Twilight Memories" argues that the danger of amnesia is inherent in the information revolution. Our obsessions with cultural memory can be read as re-representing a powerful reaction against the electronic archive, and they mark a shift in the way we live structures of temporality."

But whatever the causes, the consequences are truly frightening. When 63 percent of young people can't find Iraq on a map after three years of war and coverage, you know that the institutions that claim to be informing us are doing everything but.

Our amnesia about recent developments seems to be induced and reinforced by the very fast-paced entertainment-oriented formats that we have become addicted to as sources of news and knowledge. They keep us in the present, in the now, disconnected from any larger ideas or analytical framework. No wonder some studies find that news viewers rapidly forget what they have just seen. That is what is intended to happen. No wonder, as Jay Leno shows when he contrasts a photo of a cultural icon with an elected official, that the public recognizes the former, not the latter. We recognize Mr. Peanut, not Jimmy Carter. More people vote for the best performer on American Idol than for our presidents.

The architects of TV news know this from their market surveys and studies. It is this very media effect that they hype to lure advertisers to their real business: selling our eyeballs to sponsors, not deepening our awareness. Depoliticizing our culture is a media necessity in a society driven by consumerism. Every programmer knows the drill. It's a market logic called KISS: Keep It Simple and Stupid.

A national curriculum, "Lessons From History," on the teaching of the past realizes that this phenomenon threatens democracy, warning, "Citizens without a common memory, based on common historical studies, may lapse into political amnesia, and be unable to protect freedom, justice, and self-government during times of national crisis. Citizens must understand that democracy is a process -- not a finished product -- and that controversy and conflict are essential to its success."

So even as this dialectic is deplored, it is, sadly, quite functional.

"We're forgetting the past," says historian Howard Zinn, "because neither our educational system nor our media inform us about the past. For instance, the history of the Vietnam War has been very much forgotten. I believe this amnesia is useful to those conducting our present foreign policy. It would be embarrassing if the story of the Vietnam War were told at a time when we are engaged in a war which has some of the same characteristics: government deception, the killing of civilians through bombing, scaring the American people (world communism in that case, terrorism in this one)."

So on Memorial Day and in the season ahead, think of how to encourage remembering, not just about the dead but for the living. Our future depends on how we understand the past. Political amnesia is the enemy in our ADD culture.

Please don't forget. Oh, too bad, you already have...

(Danny Schechter writes a blog for He is the author of "Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception: How the Media Failed to Cover the War on Iraq)

5. One Soldier's Story on Memorial Day -- by Garett Reppenhagen

Memorial Day is a painful reminder of our failed mission in Iraq.

Like every solider in today's armed forces, I chose to serve my country. I knew I'd most likely see combat, and I accepted that possibility as part of my duty to my country.

I was proud of my service as a peacekeeper in Kosovo, and honored to have served beside so many courageous men and women in Iraq.

During my time in Iraq, I saw the effects of war firsthand - the ravaged buildings, the lives horribly cut short and the haunted look of trauma that lingers in people's eyes.

I saw the fear, the sadness, the abject tragedy that even now I can't find words for. What I saw in Iraq will haunt me for the rest of my life.

My experiences there changed my view of this war. Before I was deployed, I - like many other Americans - thought that military intervention was the only way to protect America's security. But after I spent some time in Iraq, I came to question our reason for being there. I came to realize that this war is not making America a safer place.

If anything, it's made us less safe than before.

And as the conflict slides into civil war, the safety of the men, women and children of Iraq falls deeper into jeopardy. The Bush administration now forecasts a US military presence in Iraq through 2008, which is far longer than the initial estimates touted so loudly in the run-up to the war.

Meanwhile, it's become increasingly apparent to many Americans that, in Iraq, a military solution is no solution at all. According to a March 2006 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans view the war in Iraq as a mistake.

The past three years of war in Iraq have cost us too much - in resources and, most tragically, in human lives. More than 2,440 US soldiers have been killed to date, among them a number of my friends. In addition, countless thousands of Iraqi civilians have also lost their lives in this conflict.

As the death toll rises each day, I wonder how much more we can afford. How high must these numbers go before we decide that staying the course is far too expensive?

I don't pretend to speak for all veterans, or for all US soldiers. But as someone who served in Iraq, I believe that it's now my duty to bear witness. As Americans, we have a duty to voice our dissent, to stand up in protest when we disagree with our government's actions.

And despite what some may say, the fact that America is at war does not diminish this responsibility. If anything, war enhances the need for engaging in debate. Dissent is what makes democracy live and breathe. It's what keeps our democracy from being more than just another slogan.

On this Memorial Day, I dissent.

(Garett Reppenhagen is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and former sniper 1st Infantry division. Garett most recently took part in the opening of a traveling memorial in remembrance of Iraq civilian casualties on display at the National Mall in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Quaker social justice organization, the American Friends Service Committee. He can be reached at


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