It’s patriotic to criticize our generals

American military officers are starting to speak their minds again, now that Donald Rumsfeld has departed from the Pentagon, and what some of the best of them are saying is even darker than expected. The latest outburst of frankness came on May 12, when Maj. Gen. Benjamin “Randy” Mixon, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, told reporters, via teleconference from Tikrit, that he didn’t have enough troops to stem the growing violence in Diyala province, east of Baghdad.

Under Rumsfeld’s reign, commanders were effectively under orders not to request more troops in private, much less in front of the press. Yet in the scheme of things, Gen. Mixon was merely filing a complaint. Two weeks earlier, a lower-ranking officer, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, issued a jeremiad. In a blistering article in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal, Yingling likened the debacle in Iraq to the disaster in Vietnam and blamed them both on “a crisis in an entire institution, America’s general officer corps.”

Yingling’s essay is the most stunning public statement I have ever read from an active-duty officer. Were Rumsfeld still secretary, Yingling would likely find himself reassigned to some humdrum logistical-supply depot. Even now, his prospects for getting promoted to general have been dealt a severe setback. Tomorrow’s generals are chosen by today’s generals, and Yingling charges most of this generation’s generals with lacking “professional character,” “moral courage,” and “creative intelligence.”

Yingling, 41, a veteran of both Iraq wars and a graduate of the Army’s elite School for Advanced Military Studies, is widely thought to be one of the brightest, most dedicated up-and-coming officers. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has cited the campaign of Yingling’s regiment that brought order to Tal Afar as the model of what he is now trying to do in Baghdad.

Yingling’s argument is tightly reasoned. Generals must provide policy-makers with an estimate of a war’s likely success. He writes, “If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means, he shares culpability for the results.”

Although Yingling recognizes that the “tendency of the executive branch [is] to seek out mild-mannered team players to serve as senior generals,” he finds it “almost surreal” that “professional military men blame their recent lack of candor on the intimidating management style of their civilian masters.” He charges that “America’s generals failed to estimate correctly both the means and the ways necessary to achieve the aims of policy prior to beginning the war in Iraq.” But it was the civilian advisors to President Bush who told him what he wanted to hear, that the war would be “a cakewalk,” “a slam-dunk.”

Yingling also alleges, erroneously, that “the military never explained to the president the magnitude of the challenges inherent in stabilizing postwar Iraq.” Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki stated in February 2003—before the U.S. invasion—that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to stabilize Iraq. For his candor and courage, he was retired.

Yingling equally blames the services: “The system that produces our generals does little to reward creativity and moral courage. … In a system in which senior officers select for promotion those like themselves, there are powerful incentives for conformity. It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to … expectations will emerge as an innovator [later].”

Yingling proposes a useful overhaul in the military’s system of promotion, allowing generals to be selected by junior, as well as senior, officers. In combat, he writes, junior officers “are often the first to adapt because they bear the brunt of failed tactics most directly.” Therefore, they are also more likely to recognize—and reward—innovative, adaptive commanders.

He also proposes measures of accountability. For instance, generals who fail in their responsibilities should be demoted so they don’t receive their full rank’s retirement pay. “As matters stand now,” he writes, “a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

Yingling’s essay has been avidly discussed in military blogs and very much endorsed. One typical entry, from a soldier at Fort Knox: “He’s only putting to paper what has been said in most every TOC [tactical operations center] and chow hall in the last 4 years.” The key question is whether the piece has been discussed in general officers’ dining quarters, in the E Ring of the Pentagon, or among the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nobody in those realms has contacted Yingling.

A little-realized fact is that, though President Bush keeps saying we’re in a war for Western civilization, the military is still operating under its normal, bureaucratic, peacetime system of promotion. There is no way a combatant commander can summarily dismiss an incompetent general, no way he can bump a brilliant lieutenant colonel up four steps to lieutenant general. At the outset of World War II, U.S. commanders fired 55 generals and 245 colonels—and that was during a severe shortage of senior officers.

Maj. Gen. Mixon, who said publicly that there aren’t enough troops to keep order in Iraq, is no doomsayer, simply a practical commander. “I’m going to need additional forces,” he said during his teleconference, “to get [the violence] to a more acceptable level, so the Iraqi security forces will be able in the future to handle that.” He has just one U.S. combat brigade, about 3,500 troops, in Diyala province, compared with four brigades in Anbar and ten in Baghdad.

And, as he no doubt knows, there are no plans to send more troops his way, mainly because no such troops exist. Of the five extra brigades that President Bush ordered to Baghdad as part of his “surge” back in February, only three have arrived; the fifth won’t be on the ground until late summer. Why not? Because they won’t be ready until then; they won’t be fully manned, trained, or equipped.

When critics and retired officers say that the U.S. Army is at the end of its tether, they’re not exaggerating. If a crisis in another hot spot erupted, and if the president wanted to send ground troops to deal with it, he couldn’t without transferring units from Iraq or Afghanistan. There is no slack.

And here is where the messages of Maj. Gen. Mixon and Lt. Col. Yingling intersect. As Yingling makes clear, once the policy-maker receives military advice that there aren’t enough troops to achieve the war’s strategic objectives, he or she “must then scale back the ends of policy or mobilize popular passions to provide greater means.”

President Bush has done neither. He has evaded this calculation from the beginning and continues to do so now that everyone plainly realizes there are not, and never were, enough troops. The next president will have to take up the big question: If we don’t have the resources in troops, money, or will, should we whip up the passions of the people to get more—or scale back to a more realistic policy? The current course is a surefire road to disaster.

– This article by Fred Kaplan, from the “War Stories” column of Slate.com, has been edited.
PeaceMeal, May/June 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Dear Abby on PTSD

I’m a man who feels all alone in the world. ... My girlfriend doesn’t understand the living hell of post-traumatic stress from a tour in Iraq, and every time I need comforting, I am pushed away.

The only friends who I’m in contact with are her family. Support from my family isn’t easy to get. My father, a Vietnam veteran, understands what I’m going through, but has told me he chooses to stay away because he’s afraid of a possible relapse.

Help!

– Stressed in Pennsylvania

Dear Stressed:

Consider this: I’m not sure that anyone who hasn’t been through it — or isn’t a trained psychotherapist — can truly understand the pain of post-traumatic stress. And that is why I’m urging you to contact your nearest veterans hospital.

More than in wars past, the military medical system seems to appreciate that a large number of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will need professional help to overcome their trauma. Help is available, so please don’t wait to reach out for it. And while you’re at it, take your father with you, because it appears he could use some help too.

– Tri-City (Wash.) Herald, 22 Nov. 2006
PeaceMeal. Nov/December 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


A father reflects on war, his son and the militarydan_sisk.gif (5113 bytes)

by Dan Sisk

As my wife and I quietly strolled through the Vietnam War memorial on the Capitol grounds in Olympia one evening, I recalled a new struggle brewing, this one of words and confined to an old friend’s family. Consisting both of hawks and doves, the Smiths, as I’ll call them, need little spark these days to ensure family gatherings remain lively. The latest issue: A grandchild has enlisted in the Army to fund a college education. The doves are beside themselves. My first exposure to war occurred decades ago when my friend and I were too young to have a useful opinion. The oldest Smith boy, Edward, joined the Vietnam-bound Marines. The Smiths threw him a going away party, gave him a nice footlocker in which his 3-year-old sister sat for a picture, and Mrs. Smith cried. Eighteen months later Ed came home wearing a full-length cast on his leg and a Purple Heart.

Ed also brought his war buddy, Dennis, who stayed for a few days. Dennis had a big bandage on his upper arm. Every once in a while, he’d have to replace the bandage. One day, he let this wide-eyed 8-year-old take a look underneath.

To that point, my injuries had been limited to skinned knees, bee stings and being dressed up like a girl by my sisters (don’t ask). And Ed’s injury appeared in focus no worse than a broken leg. So the glimpse of the soft-ball-size hole down to the bone in Dennis’ biceps burned an indelible image into my memory. It was then I realized war can hurt.

I relive this epiphany whenever the cocky freshman linebacker we’re trying to raise fancies shouldering an M-16 as a career. That and blowing things up, though the thought of blowing up people hasn’t quite sunk into him. Regardless, such ambitions leave me uneasy.

My experience with the military is equally remote but insightful. Visiting the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on business, I’ve watched young leathernecks with too much testosterone weaving in and out of traffic on the drag strip between the town and the main gate. White knuckling the steering wheel, I pondered the woeful support structure that can’t provide these idle soldiers with sufficient educational opportunities, hobbies or just wholesome fun.

At Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne, I’ve mingled with young military families in the commissary trying to stretch meager paychecks. Supporting the troops by parading up and down the street with a sign is one thing; getting the government to pay decent wages to the families they tear apart is another.

Certainly a military career can be rewarding even if you don’t blow things up. And the pragmatism of a well-built military seems all too obvious in this angry world. But one gets a little nervous at the prospect of providing the raw material.

Of course, my son could just want me to lose sleep. Well, it’s working. In defense, I’d mention the more traditional — and likely more gainful — professions, such as science or engineering. But he senses the tacit discontent in the alluring images I concoct: your name in print (endless documentation), advancement opportunities (incessant re-orgs), professional enrichment (training and retraining). I need to lie better.

Another unhappy milestone for casualties in Iraq did little to soothe me. Instead, I flashed back to a spread in USA Today on the 2,000 American deaths noted last fall. The piece included the last words of the dead from letters to home scribbled between battles. Spread across the page were soldiers’ hopes and dreams — for themselves, their marriages, their kids. All good people, the paper lamented.

But it shouldn’t surprise us that good people die in war, taking with them their dreams and the dreams of their mothers and fathers. War doesn’t play favorites.

The only consolation many of us have is the secret relief it’s someone else’s kid. Not a thought to be proud of.

Slowly, though, my micromanaging lost steam as I accepted the fact that the world won’t end if my boy doesn’t turn out the same way I did. That would be a relief in itself, especially to my wife.

Since my son seems to have memorized the sum of worldly knowledge, what I pass on now may find little room in his stuffed gray matter. I only hope whatever insights made the cut see daylight when he’s on some future patrol sorting friend from foe.

Perhaps by then he’ll have helped restore the good name of our citizens in uniform sadly tarnished by the shenanigans at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Perhaps by then he won’t have to worry about strangers running toward him wearing chic TNT overcoats. Then maybe we all will sleep better.

• Dan Sisk is a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Born and raised in Richland, he is married with two teenage sons. His article is reprinted from the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald, 8 July 2006.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Wounded soldiers pay for Pentagon errors

For years the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Defense Inspector General have attempted — and failed — to audit the Pentagon’s books. Here are some of the consequences of the Pentagon’s gross financial mismanagement:

* Some U.S. soldiers evacuated from Iraq to the Landstuhl Regional Army Medical Center in Germany and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington were declared AWOL from their units and their pay was docked.

* Other soldiers were being paid deployment entitlements they were no longer earning, thereby accruing debt they were not aware of and had great difficulty paying back. Soldiers even became the target of collection agencies assigned to them by the Army pay system.

* By maintaining eight different pay-tracking systems unable to share data automatically, the Army has no way of definitively knowing the actual number of mis-paid and otherwise harassed wounded soldiers.

* Existing laws and regulations are extremely complex, and there is no Army training program to explain them all to soldiers, commanders, or clerks.

* There appears to be no agency in the Army charged with oversight of this dysfunctional system.

  – CDI Defense Monitor, Nov/Dec 2005. See: www.cdi.org/smrp
PeaceMeal, May/June 2006


Leave My Child Alone! - ‘opting out’ of military recruitment

Military recruiting on school campuses — a topic already simmering at the college level — is becoming a hot-button issue at some high schools. President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools receiving federal funding must release the names of its students to military recruiters. The Pentagon has also set up a database of 30 million 16-25-year-olds, which is updated daily and distributed monthly to the Armed Services for recruitment purposes.

Some people believe that’s an invasion of privacy prompted by the Iraq war effort and want military recruiters barred from campuses. Others say barring recruiters is an infringement of free speech and a snub to the military.

Last year, the Parent Teacher Student Association of one of Seattle’s top high schools, Garfield High School, took a decisive step with an 83 percent majority vote to adopt a resolution that says “public schools are not a place for military recruiters.” Garfield’s PTSA cochair Amy Hagopian, a mother of three whose son was a Garfield senior, said, “The mission of the PTA is to protect and defend kids.”

The only way to keep your children’s contact information from military recruiters is to submit an “opt-out” letter. Two letters are necessary to “opt-out” your child from both the Pentagon database and your high school recruitment list. You can create both letters on the website of Leave My Child Alone!, a family privacy project to protect students from unwanted military recruiting. In just a few minutes, you can create separate pre-printed letters that include both the Pentagon’s address and your high school Superintendent’s address. All you need is a printer, two envelopes and two stamps.

The website also has an 11 -minute Leave My Child Alone video featuring Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, and Jim Massey, an ex-Marine recruiter. Leave My Child Alone! was created by Mainstreet Moms and Working Assets and is co-sponsored by Peace Action and many other justice and peace organizations

Go to: www.leavemychildalone.org

– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006


olander.jpg (2968 bytes)A soldier's pain deep inside

by Bob Herbert

Specialist Craig Peter Olander Jr. has the look of a mischievous kid, except that his eyes sometimes telegraph that they've seen too much. And there's a weariness that tends to slip into his voice that seems unusual for someone just 21 years old. Killing can do that to a person. ...

Specialist Olander sustained a number of injuries [in Iraq] ... But his major problems then and now, as he readily acknowledges, "are emotional and psychological." He is filled with guilt. ...

He is also filled with turbulent emotions related to the insurgents that he killed. "I had no hesitation about pulling the trigger," he said. "But the aftermath is what hurt. Before I joined the military, I valued life very much, so taking it was hard. It's confusing trying to figure it out, you know, because sometimes I feel rage toward them.

"But then it becomes a very religious thing, because I wonder, you know, since I've taken these lives, if I'm going to be accepted into heaven. You know, have I done the right thing?"

Specialist Olander is being treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center [on the Bush administration's current list of base closures – editor's note].

Bob Herbert is an award-winning columnist for the New York Times, where this article was published on August 8, 2005. For the complete article, see: www.bruderhof.com/articles/herbert-pain.htm

– PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2005


Military academy sex assaults surveyed

One female student in seven attending United States military academies during spring 2004 said she had been sexually assaulted since becoming a cadet or midshipman, according to a report on the first survey of sexual misconduct on the three campuses released March 18, 2005, by the Defense Department. And more than half the women studying at the Army, Navy, and Air Force academies reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on campus. But only a third of the assaults and few of the harassment incidents were reported to authorities.

The survey, conducted largely in response to allegations of widespread sexual harassment and assault at the Air Force Academy in 2003, suggests a prevailing climate at the academies that worries military leaders. Too many students condone unwanted sexual advances, and too few dare to confront classmates with their transgressions or to report them to anyone else, the survey shows.

Defense officials said they were particularly concerned about the widespread cynicism students revealed toward the honor codes in their studies. Substantial shares of students at all three schools reported that their classmates will break academy rules and even the honor code if they know they won't get caught.

In March and April 2004, the Department of Defense surveyed 1,906 women — all but 65 of those attending the three academies, along with a representative sample of 3,107 men. The survey attempted to "actually find out what happened" to each victim of assault or harassment, said DOD Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz, whose office conducted the survey.

Among the women surveyed across the three academies, 262 students reported 302 incidents of sexual assault, including 94 instances of alleged rape. About 176 cases involved inappropriate touching. Men reported 55 sexual assaults. The incidents occurred from 1999 to 2004, mostly in dormitory rooms, and the offenders were primarily upperclassmen, according to the report.

Two-thirds of the sexual assaults against men and women — 248 incidents — were not reported to authorities, the survey shows. Officials said this is a result of privacy concerns and myriad other factors that deter assault victims from reporting the crime, even in the general population.

But students reported other factors germane to their military campus culture. One is fear among victims that they, too, could be punished for conduct related to the assault, such as underage drinking. Another is a sense of loyalty to classmates. A third is fear of reprisals by classmates or senior officers, according to the survey. Of the 96 cases that women reported to academy authorities, 29 led to criminal investigations, according to the survey. It was unclear how many led to actual charges against the alleged offender.

David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the frequency of sexual assaults and the reluctance of victims to report the crimes seem to reflect trends among other college campuses, based on department research. Rape is considered the most under-reported violent crime in the nation at large.

A 2004 study by the American College Health Association found comparable rates of sexual assault among female college students. But the military academies say they hold themselves to higher standards than the rest of society.

"Our goal is to produce military leaders of character," Inspector General Schmitz said at a news conference. "And obviously, sexual assaults are not a good indication of character. In fact, they're a very bad indication."

– edited from The Washington Post, March 19, 2005
PeaceMeal, May/June 2005

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Basic training for kids
Army and toymakers often work together

Two days after the war with Iraq began, Jerry Whitaker, who works at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., a military research organization, got an e-mail message from Hasbro, the nation’s second-largest toy manufacturer. Hasbro, which makes GI Joe and his accessorized worlds of war, including a "desert arena" collection introduced after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, wanted the latest information on chemical protection suits. The Army and Hasbro have worked together for years.

The $20 billion toy industry closely watched the Iraq war with an eye toward new product introductions for Christmas last year. Right next to it at the television set is the $10 billion video game industry. The two industries know from experience with Desert Storm, the raid of Mogadishu in Somalia, and the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, that new battle tools will be showcased by the armed services, and they could be new battle toys by Christmas.

The relationship between the military and the toy industry is not a handoff, in fact, but a trade. Durability and miniaturization are a toy’s basic design briefs. It makes them, in an enhanced military version, eminently suitable for deployment in the field, where stresses and weight are key concerns in troop movement.

"The M-16 rifle is based on something Mattel did," said Glenn Flood, a spokesman for the Pentagon, which is looking to toys and electronic games for parts, prototypes, and ideas that can be developed effectively and inexpensively as battlefield tools. Inspiration has come from model airplanes (reconnaissance drones), "supersoaker" water guns (quick-loading assault weapons), and gaming control panels (for unmanned robotic vehicles).

Though full development of a new toy takes months, toymakers and retailers have been quick off the mark. Hasbro quickly issued a desert Tactical Advisor figure modeled after the Army’s desert Delta Forces. Small Blue Planet, a large independent toy retailer, introduced a series of "Special Forces: Showdown With Iraq" figures, assembled from parts of existing figures to duplicate as accurately as possible what was observed in the news media during the troop buildup in Kuwait. Two of the four models sold out immediately. "We started work when the ‘Showdown’ buzzword hit the airwaves," said Anthony Allen, Small Blue Planet’s president. "There’s fierce competition among manufacturers to get the new things out first."

Christian Borman, a president of Plan-B Toys, which makes military action figures based on the search for bin Laden in Afghanistan, as well as a Delta Force sniper, outfitted a Marine Force Recon figure from television coverage in Kuwait. At the American International Toy Fair, Borman had a piece of sales advice from a national buyer for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which operates stores on military bases and online. "He told us we should wait until the war starts, and whatever logos we saw on CNN, to put that on our toys," Borman said. "He didn’t want to consider them until they were specific to the war."

In addition to a Desert NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) Trooper "Josh Simon," which Dragon Models, a leading action figure manufacturer, rushed to market, it sells an Army National Guard "Homeland Security Amy." Sales of heroic and military figures soared in 2002. GI Joe’s business was up 46 percent from 2001.

Although consumer protests prompted Walgreens and Kmart to pull Easter baskets with military action figures off the shelves, the industry is not defensive about its war toys. What the manufacturers can’t see, they ask for. They have excellent contacts in the military and with its contractors, working with the armed services directly at research and development centers like Whitaker’s in Natick or the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California in Marina del Rey, both set up by the military itself.

Because the newest generation of soldiers grew up playing with action war toys and electronic war games, the symbiosis between them is nearly genetic. Today’s troops received their initial basic training as children.

– edited from The New York Times News Service
PeaceMeal Nov/December 2004

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Trying to buy security
$1 billion a day for the Pentagon

In the security hysteria following the terrorist attacks of Black Tuesday, President Bush is proposing to gorge the Pentagon on a military budget that exceeds one billion dollars a day every day of the year!

The President announced on January 23 that his proposed budget for FY 2003 will increase Pentagon spending by $48 billion for a total of $379 billion and will cut domestic programs to fund the increase in spite of rising deficits.

That is the largest increase in military spending since the Reagan-era military buildup. The increase alone of $48 billion is larger than the annual military budget of any other country in the world.

The next largest military budget is that of our ally, the United Kingdom, at $35 billion (2001). Russia's budget is $29 billion (2000). The much-hyped "rogue states," Iraq and North Korea, would have to go together to buy just one of our B-2 Stealth bombers at a cost of $2.2 billion. Their military budgets are $1.4 billion (1999) and $1.3 billion (2000), respectively. South Korea spends ten times as much on its military as North Korea.

Our President claims the huge increase is necessary, in spite of a projected federal budget deficit of $106 billion this year, to fight terrorists and protect the United States from future attacks. Yet a large part of the increase will go to exotic, unneeded weapons such as the Marine's V-22 Osprey tilt-wing aircraft that keeps exhibiting a deeply undesirable tendency to fall out of the sky; the Army's Crusader mobile artillery unit, a futuristic tank which a Pentagon advisory panel recently recommended cancelling as a relic of the Cold War; and the never-ending fantasy (and financial black hole) of ballistic missile defense.

Billions of the proposed increase for a total of $25 billion next year are for homeland security. But we cannot have security at home when deficits force Congress to raid the Social Security trust fund, when workers who have lost jobs as a result of the recession also lose their health insurance, and when states are unable to afford prescription drugs for elderly citizens under Medicaid. Homeland security requires jobs and food, housing and health care for all and quality education.

If the proposed increase is passed, two weeks of Pentagon spending will equal the amount we spend on foreign aid in an entire year. Eight days of military spending will equal the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.

What the Administration is doing is using the military budget as a whipping boy for the terrorist attacks of September 11, behind which it hides an inability to face the root causes of terrorism many of which lie in United States foreign policy of the past and present (see PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2001).

"We're in an atmosphere where not many hard choices are being made," said Gordon Adams, director of the Security Policy Studies Program at George Washington University, "and as long as we're not making hard choices, there will be an attempt to have it all."

Another $48 billion on top of last year's already gargantuan Pentagon budget may provide a silver lining to the pockets of the weapons industries, but it will not buy security at home or abroad.

Footnote

The day after President Bush proposed to cut domestic programs and increase the national debt in order to inflate the military budget, seven people including a mother and her three young children were killed when fire swept through a crowded mobile home in Bethpage, Missouri. The fire reportedly started after food was left cooking on the stove. Six other people four of them children escaped, according to a relative who lives in a trailer next door.

Thirteen people living in a mobile home?

The number of homeless people in Missouri rose 42 percent over the last three years, according to a study by the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," and we'll balance the Pentagon on their backs.

- Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2002


Murderers and heroes

In all the articles and talk about the infamous Timothy McVeigh, what I find missing is any mention of the role of official violence in forming his character. Mr. McVeigh is not a natural-born killer. He is a trained killer. He was trained by our government.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is a psychologist who designed military training programs to overcome the natural human aversion to killing our own (see PeaceMeal, July/August 1999). According to Lt. Col.Grossman, the training methods used by our military to accomplish this end are brutalization, desensitization toward violence and death, and conditioned response to kill reflexively and show no remorse.

After such programming, the enigma of Mr. McVeigh is that he still had a conscience. According to Mr. McVeigh, it was his experience in the Persian Gulf War that turned him against his own government. He was disturbed by the sight of Iraqi soldiers desperate to surrender, starving children, and the widespread destruction caused by our bombing. According to Lou Michel, co-author of American Terrorist, Mr. McVeigh "began to think he was working for the biggest bully in the world."

That view is shared by myself and many thousands of peace activists in the United States. The only difference is that we have a commitment to nonviolence.

Who ever taught Timothy McVeigh nonviolent methods of resistance? Certainly not the military. Mr. McVeigh fought the bully the only way he knew. He lashed out with the deadly violence of his official military training.

With his one bomb, Mr. McVeigh killed 168 people including 19 children. In our obsession to take out Saddam Hussein, we ignored Iraq's claim that the al-Amiriya bomb shelter in Baghdad was for the protection of civilians. With two smart bombs, we incinerated 403 people who took refuge there including 261 women and 52 children. The pilots responsible for that "collateral damage" were welcomed home as heroes. The only difference between their murders and Mr. McVeigh's is that their innocent victims were not citizens of the United States.

Our eyes are still being opened to the brutal crimes our military committed against civilians in other countries, such as Korea and Vietnam. We continue to shut our eyes to the violence and murder done by other governments with our direct assistance and support. For example, when our man in Iran fell in 1979, it was said there was no one left in Iran who had not lost someone to the Savak, the shah's secret police. The Savak was trained by our CIA.

The horrors of the 36-year civil war against the indigenous Mayan people in Guatemala aided and abetted by our government are well-documented in the book by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum. Sr. Dianna Ortiz, a U.S. citizen tortured and raped in a Guatemala City jail in 1989, is still trying to find out the identity of the North American named "Alejandro" probably CIA from whom her captors took orders.

We are still waging our siege-war against the innocent people of Iraq through economic sanctions. According to UNICEF figures, the death toll due largely to starvation and intestinal disease from sewage-contaminated drinking water exceeds one million civilians including some 600,000 children.

In reference to the official violence of governments, Charlie Chaplin observed: "One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify."

- Jim Stoffels, Chairman and Editor
PeaceMeal, May/June 2001


Militarism and the millennium

On the threshold of a new century and a new millennium, we have a rare vantage point to examine our failures in living together on this planet.

Prior to the 20th century, our failures — our wars — were confined to a given locale or region. Early in this century, we set a record by waging the first World War. Because of its horrifying carnage, it was believed to be "a war to end all wars"; but only a few decades later, we were engaged in a second World War and witnessed man's inhumanity to man on an even greater scale with the Holocaust and the atomic bombings.

Korea followed, then Vietnam, and a host of other armed conflicts in which we were involved directly or secretly — some in support of regimes that committed criminal atrocities.

In the 1980s, we went deeply into debt to fund the greatest military buildup during peacetime in United States history. And we continue on the same track. Our proposed military budget for the year 2000 stands at $289 billion — more than double the military budgets of Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran combined. Our war-making budget exceeds our total discretionary spending for all other government functions combined, including health, education, housing, environment, science, energy, transportation, commerce, and agriculture.

Some argue that the world is a dangerous place and we need to keep militarily strong in order to protect ourselves. But that is a specious argument which cannot be justified in light of the real human needs of our country, where 35-million people — including one out of every five children — live in poverty.

Out of a combination of fear and greed — fear by our policymakers in government and greed by our military-industrial complex — we have become addicted to militarism. Our addiction is evidenced by the single fact that, when the Cold War ended and the whole world breathed a sigh of relief, there was no peace dividend. Instead, that alliance of fear and greed created new enemies out of small-time tyrants to rationalize our huge peacetime standing army of 1,400,000 active-duty troops and exorbitant expenditures on weapons.

Our army and weapons have themselves become excuses for their use. During our recent bombing campaign in Kosovo, which violated international law, one of our generals asked, "What's the point of having this superb military ... if we can't use it?"

On the positive side of the 20th century, we did confront and expose two systemic evils — racism and sexism — that had long been accepted parts of our society. A challenge facing us in the 21st century is to confront and expose another evil that has too long been an accepted part of our society: militarism.

Militarism can best be defined by examples:

The magnitude of the challenge facing us may be even greater than we can imagine because the military is America's sacred cow. We wrap militarism and patriotism together with the American flag.

The late John F. Kennedy said: "War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."

By what we do — by our voting, by our investing, by our activism or inaction — each of us helps to bring that distant day closer or move it farther away.

- Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor
September/October 1999

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