Friday, 11 November 2011

War ~ U.S. Iraq War Veterans speak out ~ as have Howard Zinn and Robert McNamara

War is a painful business in which all manner of horrendous loss is unavoidable.       
     The pain soldiers experience in wartime duty is not commonly aired on the news, especially when that war is still being fought - it's too messy and uncomfortable, especially for those authorising and leading those wars - as well as those who are paying for it, largely the taxpaying public.  
     But in a personal sense it's far more messy and uncomfortable for individual soldiers to publicly speak out against the very war in which they have been involved, speaking from direct personal experience of what went wrong - that takes guts and a very strong commitment to a sense of justice greater than themselves; this means everyone - including the people they've been dominating and controlling.

Here is what we have NOT been shown on the television news:

IVAW stands for 'Iraq Veterans Against the War'.  It is a group of veterans who are committed to speaking out with the intention of stopping the war - what courage!  I wish you courageous men and women strength and success.

Two other notable war veterans have also examined their wartime experience and spoken out about the destructiveness of war with similar rigour and determination: these men were Howard Zinn and Robert S. McNamara.  Better ways of resolving international conflicts must be found.
Howard Zinn, who featured in my previous article, spoke eloquently about the complexities of war and the impossibility of achieving anything constructive without overwhelming destruction and loss to all parties.  I have his book "Terrorism and war", published in 2002, in front of me.  He said 
In war the evil of the means is certain and the achievement of the end, however important, is always uncertain.  That is, war always sets off a chain of events that are unpredictable.  For instance, in World War 2, you could not be certain that you would defeat fascism.  You might be fairly certain that you could defeat Hitler and Mussolini, but you could not be certain that you would be doing away with all the elements of fascism, with militarism, racism, imperialism, and violence.  In fact, after 50 million deaths that did not happen.  Considering these issues, and thinking about the prospects of the human race given the horrifying technology of war, persuaded me that there could be no longer really be a war we could call just.  I decided that whatever world situations we faced, whatever act of aggression we faced, we had to come up with a solution other than the mass killing of human beings.  (page 22-23)
His anti-war stance was influenced by his wartime service in the air force as a bombardier.  He had gone to war to fight fascism, so he is not saying this lightly.  After the war he went back to some of the areas he had bombed and faced up to what happened on the ground as a result.  In the Wikipedia article linked to above he is quoted as having written:
I suggest that the history of bombing—and no one has bombed more than this nation—is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like 'accident', 'military target', and 'collateral damage'".[12]
On page 16 he says:
We have to broaden our definition of terrorism, or else we will denounce one terrorism and accept another.  And we need to create conditions in the world where the terrorism of sects and terrorism of governments are both opposed by people all over the world.  [...]  You hear journalists and politicians talking about globalisation and the free flow of markets.  But they don't talk about international solidarity of people.  They don't say that we should consider people everywhere as our brothers and sisters - that we should consider children all over the world as our children.
Here you can see this mild-mannered and thoughtful man for yourselves:

Robert S. McNamara, whose seven year tenure as U.S. Secretary of Defense put him in a pivotal role in the Vietnam war, spoke out against it with considerable candour later in life.  Much of this is recorded in his documentary film:
  • "The Fog of War", and 
  • also in his book "In retrospect: the tragedy and lessons of Vietnam".  
He admitted that his strategy in Vietnam was wrong.  He was highly intelligent and conscientiously did not flinch from telling the hard truths as he saw them.  I admire him for that.

It is fair to note that during his involvement in the Vietnam war he did hold the middle ground between defence force chiefs, who wanted to bomb Vietnam with nuclear weapons, and ever-swelling public opinion against the war.  The question of what could have happened if the defence chiefs had been given free rein by a more easily influenced Secretary of Defense doesn't bear thinking about as the consequences would certainly have been cataclysmic.  We might none of us be here today.

By the time he was himself advising a sharp reduction in military involvement in Vietnam, President Johnson was no longer listening to him and he resigned.  American military involvement continued there until 1973 and the war itself dragged on until 1975.

However disastrous his policies in Vietnam were he faced up to it and and spoke out about it.  He seems to have spent the rest of his life doing what he could to redress the balance, devoting much time and effort to alleviating poverty while he was president of the World Bank, and after that to developing thinking about how catastrophic armed conflicts could be reduced or avoided:

Wikipedia notes that:
McNamara served as head of the World Bank from April 1968 to June 1981, when he turned 65.[28] In his thirteen years at the Bank, he introduced key changes, most notably, shifting the Bank's focus towards targeted poverty reduction. He negotiated, with the conflicting countries represented on the Board, a spectacular growth in funds to channel credits for development, in the form of health, food, and education projects. He also instituted new methods of evaluating the effectiveness of funded projects. 
The obituary on the Arms Control Association website gives more insight into his standpoint on nuclear arms, which also shifted over the years.

His book "Wilson's ghost: Reducing the risk of conflict, killing and catastrophe in the 21st century", (published in 2001, 2003) which was co-written with James G. Blight, is probably less well known than "In retrospect".  On the back cover the afterword states:
The 20th Century was the bloodiest in human history; over 160 million people died in wars and other armed conflicts.  And as we've seen in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United States itself, the 21st century has gotten off to a similar start.  'Wilson's Ghost' is a manifesto for ending this terrible human carnage, a call to action made especially urgent as America has embarked on an open-ended war on terrorism. [...]
This is sobering reading.  The Wilson referred to in the title is President Woodrow Wilson, whose post World War 1 efforts to establish fair and reasonable common ground-rules for international relations failed to gain sufficient votes to become reality and has not been matched by anything similar since.

Here are four clips of McNamara speaking; three are excerpts from 'The Fog of War'.  Please note that none of these are nice and many may find them distressing.  Having said that, unless we learn from history, we are likely to be doomed to repeat it - even more violently than before.  I'll let him speak for himself:

So what can we do about all this?  The first and most vital thing we can do is to learn more about these topics from those who have the wisdom of experience.  This can make us more able to see political power manoeuvring for what it is, and more able to formulate our own opinions and to voice them clearly.  Ignorance so readily produces the fear and divisions in which violence and hatred can take root.  If we know our history and are well informed we can provide a degree of the stability and good sense that is so much needed in the world today.

Recommended materials:
  • "The Fog of War" (2003): The film documentary mentioned above is packed full of history and insightful comment.  It is available on DVD.  It's one of the most helpful documentaries I've seen on any subject, and encouraged me to find out more about this very complex and difficult subject. 
  • Madeleine Albright's book, "The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on Power, God and World Affairs" (2006) as discussed in my earlier article which I have linked to here.  This book is first rate and easy to read.
  • For New Zealanders looking for more about this country's involvement in wars I highly recommend Michael King's book "New Zealanders at war".  (Revised edition published in 2003)
  • Those looking for information on trauma and PTSD may find useful references in my earlier article entitled Trauma ~ comments and links.
Today is Remembrance Day,  a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War 1 to remember those in their defence force who have died 'in the line of duty'.

I remember all those caught up in the holocausts of war in all its horrifying guises. 
I remember my great grandfather's brother who died in France who left behind a fiancée.
I remember my great grandfather whose military career took him to many places on the globe, for the sake of the Empire, and then after his retirement, maintaining law and order in his home town.
I remember those who strived for peace in other ways, the conscientious objectors, who refused to kill: I remember my father.
I remember those who spoke out and supported them through the pacifist movement: I remember my grandmother.
I remember those who went to war and did not die but were deeply affected by their experiences and carried life long burdens as a result:
I remember my grandfather who almost lost his life in France, during World War 1, and was so upset with his son and wife for their refusal to join the war effort during World War 2;
I remember my other grandfather who willingly went to war as a military doctor for the duration of World War 2 - and was never the same afterwards.
I remember my other grandmother, who spent those long years as a sole parent, managing her young family and coping on her own, and then coped with my grandfather on his return. 

Echoes of these resound down through the years and the generations that have followed.
Yes, I remember.
It has rained solidly all day.  Even the skies weep.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

"Civil disobedience... is not our problem..." ~ Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn (1922 - 2010) was an American historian, academic, author and impassioned human rights campaigner.  His work is new to me but it seems he may be most well known for his best selling book "A People's History of the United States".

In his book "Failure to Quit" (Page 45) he wrote:
You are saying our problem is civil disobedience, but that is not our problem.

Our problems is civil obedience.

Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience.

Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty, starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty.

Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and the while the grand thieves are running the country.

That's our problem.
His point was based on the observation that it is widespread pressure from the general public that motivates politicians to bring about political and legal changes.  If that pressure is not applied progress will not occur, therefore a degree of political involvement and / or activism is essential to the democratic process.

He also wrote:
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, it energizes us to act, and raises at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.  And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.  The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.
This quote is from" A Power Governments Cannot Suppress", page 170

In his article, "Changing minds one at a time" (2005) he wrote:
We were not born critical of existing society.  There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness - embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.  This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.  
I can certainly identify with these thoughts!

That quote is from the Wikipedia article about him as linked to at the beginning of this article.  It's an interesting article, well worth taking time to read.  We need people like this to help us keep our sights on what is important. 

Thanks to the writers of the Wikipedia article, and also the photographer for their generosity in sharing as they have.

You can find more of his quotable quotes at the Good Reads site and Gaiam Life.

Article updated: 11th April 2012.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Perceptions of truth and deceit ~ and a quote about the mentally disabled

Oliver Sacks, the well known neurologist and writer, speaks eloquently about the special capabilities of some people in distinguishing between truth and falsehoods.  These people are not clairvoyants or spiritual teachers, they are among the mentally disabled.  The following passage can be found in his very readable book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”.  In this chapter he describes the response of the aphasics as well as an agnosiac to 'the President's speech'.  The chapter opens:
What was going on? A roar of laughter from the aphasia ward, just as the President's speech was coming on, and they had all been so eager to hear the President speaking. ...
There he was, the old Charmer, the Actor, with his practised rhetoric, his histrionisms, his emotional appeal – and [most of] the patients were convulsed with laughter. ...
Thus the feeling I sometimes have – which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have – that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily. ... And what dogs can do here, aphaisacs do too, and at a human and immeasurably superior level. 'One can lie with the mouth,' Nietzsche writes, 'but with the accompanying grimace one nevertheless tells the truth.' To such a grimace, to any falsity or impropriety in bodily appearance or posture, aphasiacs are preternaturally sensitive. And if they cannot see one – this is especially true of our blind aphasiacs – they have an infallible ear for every vocal nuance, the tone, the rhythm, the cadences, the music, the subtlest modulations, inflections, intonations, which can give – or remove – verisimilitude to or from a man's voice. ...

Among the patients with tonal agnosia on our aphasia ward who also listened to the President's speech was Emily D., ... A former English teacher, and poetess of some repute, with an exceptional feeling for language, and strong powers of analysis and expression, Emily D. was able to articulate the opposite situation – how the Presidents speech sounded to someone with tonal agnosia. Emily D. could no longer tell if a voice was angry, cheerful, sad – whatever. Since voices now lacked expression, she had to look at people's faces, their postures and movements when they talked, and found herself doing so with care, an intensity, she had never shown before... Emily D. also listened, stony faced, so the President's speech, bringing to it a strange mixture of enhanced and defective perceptions – precisely the opposite mixture of those of our aphasiacs. It did not move her – no speech now moved her – and all that was evocative, genuine or false, completely passed her by. Deprived of emotional reaction, was she then (like the rest of us) transported or taken in? By no means. 'He is not cogent,' she said. “He does not speak good prose. His word-use is improper. Either he is brain-damaged, or he has something to conceal.' Thus the President's speech did not work for Emily D. either, due to her enhanced sense of formal language use, propriety of prose, any more than it worked for our aphasiacs, with their word-deafness but enhanced sense of tone.

Here then was the paradox of the President's speech. We normals – aided, doubtless, by our wish to be fooled – were well and truly fooled. ... And so cunningly was deceptive word-use combined with deceptive tone, that only the brain-damaged remained intact, undeceived.
This is sobering comment: with reference to my earlier article 'Evaluating teachers and healers ~ spirituality and healing vs delusion and chaos', Bill Hamilton and I both hold the same view: that it can take quite some time to be sure that a teacher, healer or guru type is genuine, that saints and those who masquerade as such can appear virtually indistinguishable, yet we read here that some of those who might be considered far less mentally competent than ourselves get it in one shot.  Have we become so inured to the partial truths we come across in everyday life that we have lost our ability to recognise the truth when it's right under our noses?  It would seem so.  This other view is certainly illuminating, but given the limitations that most of us have, I still hold that taking time to arrive at our own verdicts is the best course.  It does also show how worthwhile it can be to listen to other people's points of view, including those whom you might not expect to have this level of insight. 

This article was originally published in Part Three of 'Rushleigh - The Wasteland Chronicle'.  It is duplicated here for your interest.

Book shop link for interested NZ readers:
"The Man who mistook his wife for a hat" by Oliver Sacks - other edition available
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Resist the tide of packaged popular sentiment ~ and hold onto your own judgements

In the song "Uprising" written by Matt Bellamy for the group "Muse" we are encouraged to push back against the mind-bending propaganda which pervades popular culture.  It's so much easier not to think but to flow along with the masses.   It's harder but better to hold onto our own integrity and native intelligence and think for ourselves.  Let's hear it for James Durbin - and Muse!

The paranoia is in bloom,
The PR transmissions will resume,
They'll try to push drugs to keep us all dumbed down,
And hope that we will never see the truth around,


Another promise, another seed,
Another packaged lie to keep us trapped in greed,
With all the green belts wrapped around our minds,
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined,


They will not force us,
They will stop degrading us,
They will not control us,
And we will be victorious!


Interchanging mind-control,
Come, let the revolution take its toll,
If you could flick a switch and open your third eye,
You'd see that we should never be afraid to die,


Rise up and take the power back,
It's time that the fat cats had a heart attack,
You know that their time's coming to an end,
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend!


They will not force us,
They will stop degrading us,
They will not control us,
And we will be victorious!


They will not force us,
They will stop degrading us,
They will not control us,
And we will be victorious!

 This video clip also features in my article 'American Idol ROCKS'

Monday, 2 May 2011

Peace! Pax! Enough! Find another way!

I was saddened and disturbed by this afternoons news of the assassination of Bin Laden.  I never knew any good to come of this sort of action; it seems likely to achieve little more than provoking renewed violence and hatred.  Such leaders do not themselves kill but incite others to do so.  What of these people, of their families and friends?  Is Bin Laden's killing really justice for those killed in terrorist attacks?  It doesn't look that way to me.  It seems to me that this action is more likely to bring about the birth of a modern day Hydra, a many headed monster, which grows two heads for every one cut off.  I hope this is not the case but don't count on it.  There seem to be a number of these in the world already.

I was dismayed to hear one American commentator speak of how he had been in conversation with the Pope soon after the bombing in New York, and quoted the Pope as saying that the perpetrators must be stopped, and took this as a Catholic mandate for the launching of war in Afghanistan.  This is a mis-construction: a much loved Catholic priest said in my hearing that Papal authorities specifically petitioned the White House against the war response on the basis that it was not Christian.  It is disappointing that this was not made widely known.

Many Americans stand righteously by their Christianity, and in particular by the religious observances of their presidents, yet in the Bible different passages from divergent times in history speak very directly against killing and retribution:

It's one of the ten commandments of the Old Testament as given by God to Moses:
"You shall not kill" (Deutronomy 5 : 17)
 Jesus spoke about a constructive response to harm:
"But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well.  Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.  And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. 
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 
"Judge not, and you will not be judged ; condemn not, and you will not be condemned, forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.   For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6 : 27 - 37)
 Paul in Romans (12 : 14) has this to say:
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who are rejoicing, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.  Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head."  Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good."
While I am not a practising Christian, I do deeply respect the principles of non-violence and the pursuit of more creative solutions.  Those who know me know that I struggle with these issues as much as anyone, with the wish to strike back and answer harm with harm.  There is no suggestion that the course of action described above is an easy one.  On the other hand, looked at in practical terms, striking back for revenge or to even a score achieves little other than further destruction, and indeed often escalates it. 

I believe our species needs to look freshly at these old lessons about the responses we choose in response to injury and harm.  Until the followers and soldiers of violent individuals find greater satisfaction in peaceful means than in the continued infliction of violence on others we are all doomed to continued suffering. 

Even Winston Churchill, whose quotable quotes on war themes abound, said:
"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war"
He made this statement in a speech at the White House on 26th June, 1954.  It was quoted in the New York Times of 27th June.

War might have some credibility if it resolved conflicts in short order and didn't create ruinous death, debt and destruction to all concerned, but unfortunately that is not the case. 

I don't see that we can afford to be complacent.  If we continue on our present course, war will certainly cost us the Earth, and I mean that quite literally.  So let's not gloat about one dead man, and instead apply ourselves to finding more wholesome ways to occupy our time, energy and attention. 

I switched off the news and turned back to my recording of last weeks wedding of William and Kate.  Kate's brother James gave this timely reading from 'Romans', of which I have included part above:

Peace everyone, peace, peace, peace.

Later Notes ~ 4th and 8th May: 
(1) The following quote from Martin Luther King, Jnr. has been circulating widely as a response to the above news:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

The sentence which has been widely quoted as being part of it: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy", originated elsewhere from someone who expressed that sentiment prior to quoting Martin Luther King.  I see it as a worthy accompaniment however.

(2) The article Beyond Retaliation, published on the Common website on 3rd May is well worth reading: it puts the war in Afghanistan into perspective in terms of how much it has cost Afghanistan as well as America - It's been ruinous for both but far worse in Afghanistan.  

(3) I fully agree with this article: 'The psychology of revenge: why we should stop celebrating Osama bin Laden's death' published in the Huffington Post, 2nd May 2011

Monday, 28 March 2011

Peter Owen Jones ~ extreme pilgrim and vicar

[Updated with additional information on 2nd May 2012]
If you warm to the thoughtful articles I've written, you'll very likely enjoy documentaries featuring this man.  He's thoughtful, unusual, and determined in all sorts of ways. Somehow he manages to incorporate his own quest and convictions within the Anglican church and his ministry in it.

Here is a recording of him reading his Letter to God, which I gather is published in his book Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on life, love and the soul

The documentaries of which I have seen all or parts are: 
Information given on these websites is slight, but they do provide episode lists.  These series have screened on the BBC Knowledge, a channel not yet available in New Zealand, but I have heard it may become part of the Sky selection later this year.

For those want to see more in the meantime I provide the following links:
The episode of Extreme Pilgrim set in China was the one which spoke to me most directly:

Here is a link to the episode on Ascetic Christianity.

In addition to this he presented the one and a half hour documentary "The lost gospels" (2010) which screened on BBC4.  Here is part of the synopsis to be found on their web page:
'Documentary presented by Anglican priest Pete Owen Jones which explores the huge number of ancient Christian texts that didn't make it into the New Testament.  Shocking and challenging, these were works in which Jesus didn't die, took revenge on his enemies and kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth - a Jesus unrecognisable from that found in the traditional books of the New Testament.' [ etc]
Having endured significant spiritual rigours myself I can see that Peter must be more than usually tough to have got through the filming of this string of documentaries as intact as he appears to be!  Such exploration is not for the faint hearted!

Other points of reference can be found in:
It's always a relief to find that there are other people in the world who take the journey of life and soul seriously and actually live out their convictions, rather than just dabbing at it and mouthing word balloons of old platitudes.  I don't always understand where he's coming from or what he does; my views differs on some points, but these differences bring richness and an expansion of my own perspectives which I welcome.  I find his unusual candour heart-warming.  This is surely a friend as yet unmet.  Hi Pete, I'm over here!

Kia kaha Peter, I wish you strength to continue being the man you are.  You  have chosen a path which requires significant rigour.  I thank you for the gift of your work which gives me hope and encouragement with my own.

Note: this article was originally published in my Rushleigh ~ Movies, Television and Entertainment Chronicle.  I've placed a copy of it here for the convenience of readers interested in similar sorts of articles.