Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This was posted to Facebook, by the Progressive Coalition, July 20, 2009
Hello everybody. Just writing you to ask for your help in our unity for this late breaking incident involving a right wing U.S. Army (colonel Peters)in getting him to publicly apologize and be fired by Faux news. Thanks,
Retired Army Lt. Colonel Peters, you should immediately apologize for your statement that my fellow captured American soldier in the hands of the Taliban enemy should be (implied) tortured and killed if he deserted.
First of all, we won't know that for sure until much later. You right wing so called patriots make me sick. I as an American and liberal-progressive did not and will not engage in talk that denigrates John McCain's service (even though he was coerced into signing statements against America during his capture) to this nation so why do you hypocritically come after a young man still in the hands of a vicious enemy (the Taliban) giving them reason to feel that he should maybe be tortured and killed ?
You sir, are a disgusting human being, knowing that this young man's family is watching this along with the world. It's not bad enough that he is already being used for propaganda purposes but you and your right-wing friends like Michelle Malkin are sick and again, I and many of my fellow soldiers demand that you apologize to this young man's family for further endangering his life by making these hateful statements against him.
theprogressivecoalition.com , thejefffariasshow.com
former PFC, U.S. Army
Persian Gulf/ Iraq Occupation III
This article, by Alan Koenig, was publishedin the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate, February 2009
“I admire President Nixon’s courage. It is difficult for me to understand . . . why people are still criticizing his foreign policy — for example, the bombing in Cambodia.” — Lt. John McCain, 1973
“Collective guilt is . . . partly constituted by individual shame.” — Peter Forrest
In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s exhilarating victory, many on the Left are wondering how much of their agenda he’ll fight for, and as the early exaltations cool, progressives and militant liberals are staking positions, mustering arguments, and searching for the pressure points necessary to impel President Obama to hold war crimes trials for the Bush administration’s most appalling deeds. How far President Obama is willing to go in battling the inertia of a political culture that never seems willing to confront the sins done in its name is not yet clear, but the early signs don’t look promising. As Newsweek recently reported, “Despite the hopes of many human-rights advocates, the new Obama Justice Department is not likely to launch major new criminal probes of harsh interrogations and other alleged abuses by the Bush administration.”
As far back as July, Cass Sunstein, an informal Obama advisor, set off progressive alarms by warning The Nation magazine that war crimes prosecutions against the Bush administration might set off a “cycle” of criminalizing public service, and that only the most “egregious” crimes should be pursued. Faced with such early hedging, those dedicated to pursuing war crimes against American officials must fight a two-front war: the first against those timid moderates within the center-left who shy away from the political costs of war crimes prosecutions, and the second against the reactionary nationalism of the American right, which still needs to be persuaded as to the moral necessity of such a campaign.
Integral to both fronts will be a task requiring unusual imagination and finesse, framing the issues surrounding war crimes in such a way that a majority of the American public feels a collective sense of responsibility to redress them. Developing a narrative to inspire the American public to hold war crimes for its own elected officials treads on some exceedingly difficult ideological terrain, for there are no readily accessible frames to incorporate such a dark history of America into a positive sense of contemporary patriotism. An effort to introduce the public to the repressed regions of its historical consciousness all at once would shut down discussion. What, for instance, is the worst atrocity America has perpetrated since World War II? The question doesn’t inspire easy conversation; even asking can invite reproach for being rude, jarring, perhaps challenging to one’s patriotism. There’s no polite way to ease into those vile parts of American historical memory that most citizens don’t dwell on as they go about their days. Many people, however, on some level of consciousness, are aware and that might be the place to start.
Students from the seventies onward have graduated from liberal arts colleges having learned the whole Leftist litany of American war crimes and atrocities, and that horrific history is extremely depressing to ponder: coups, assassinations, massive bombing campaigns against neutral South East Asian countries, Central American death squads, ad nauseum. What is one to do with this knowledge? Or, more importantly, what is one to do with it upon realizing that the public doesn’t want to hear about—and our politicians don’t want to deal with—our shameful history of atrocities?
In puzzling through this dilemma, the genocide scholar Ernesto Verdeja uses an important distinction between public knowledge and acknowledgment first made by NYU’s Thomas Nagel. While the raw information about official complicity and culpability is readily available in a robust historical record, Verdeja sees the difficulty of pursuing higher justice less in the dissemination of that knowledge than the moral awareness that follows.“The problem,” he told me in a recent interview, is not public ignorance, rather it is
“the assumption by many human rights activists and critics of the administration that knowledge equals acknowledgement; in other words, that when people know how bad things are, they will ‘do something’ about it, or demand that something be done. Acknowledgement implies moral awareness, a willingness to reflect on the moral consequences of actions and behavior and take responsibility—or demand accountability—for the commission of violations.”
Until that connection is developed on an explicitly moral basis, all sorts of crimes can fall through the cracks—and already have.
Back in December of 2000, while the Supreme Court was still deliberating over who would be our next president, Bill Clinton took a farewell tour through South East Asia. As a diplomatic gesture, Clinton released previously classified Air Force data to the Cambodian government about the true extent and targets of the so-called “secret” bombing campaign conducted by the Johnson and Nixon administrations. According to an article written by two members of the Yale Genocide Studies program for The Walrus, the tonnage of bombs dropped on neutral Cambodia was five times greater than previously realized, and exceeded the combined tonnage of bombs dropped on both Germany and Japan during World War II—including the two atomic bombs: “Previously, it was estimated that between 50,000 and 150,000 Cambodian civilians were killed by the bombing. Given the fivefold increase in tonnage revealed by the database, the number of casualties is surely higher.”
Though Clinton’s revelatory report was briefly covered, no major news media or watchdog group paid sustained attention to the new bombing figures or what the moral implications might be. What does it mean that massacres on an industrial scale can be committed by American democracy and the perpetrators go…unpunished? Or, like Henry Kissinger, are feted as the wise old men of America’s foreign policy establishment? There’s a certain futility in posing these questions. Since Vietnam, there has been no place to go with a politics that seeks justice for American war crimes at the highest levels of the government. To broach these topics is to touch upon larger questions of democratic culpability and national shame, and avoiding such themes has been a political no-brainer. Shame does not sell in American politics.
Indeed, in America, the cachet of war crimes can even provide fleeting glamour. Against the wishes of much of the Army brass, President Nixon pardoned Lt. William Calley, the officer convicted in a military tribunal of the command responsibility for mass rape and slaughter of hundreds of defenseless old men, women and children in Vietnam’s My Lai massacre. Calley, while awaiting trial, appeared in an issue of Esquire; the cover shot showed him in dress uniform, grinning like a demonic chipmunk while holding a lapful of Asian children. According to Time magazine, after details emerged about the atrocity during his trial—and his own soldiers testified that he personally shot a child attempting to crawl out of a trench of corpses—Calley was flooded with thousands of letters of support, personal checks, and flowers. Though controversial, the President’s decision to commute his sentence proved popular, as an overwhelming 79 percent of Americans polled disapproved of Calley’s conviction. Upon being partially pardoned, Calley enjoyed a brief stint as a minor celebrity, a far right rallying figure and lecturer, before slipping into wealthy obscurity.
The journalist and polemicist Christopher Hitchens notes a somewhat similar phenomenon in the career of Henry Kissinger, in that the hints of shamelessness and past atrocities adds a bit of bad boy swagger or frisson to Kissinger’s persona. It’s the kind of buzz that’s good for both cocktail parties and TV appearances with Jay Leno, and the ancient guru’s reputation remains exalted enough that this year’s first presidential debate showed both candidates’ efforts to claim his ideas as closer to their own brand of foreign policy. Even Hitchens’s endeavors to popularize Kissinger’s crimes have run afoul of this bizarre resiliency, providing another cautionary tale of thwarted accountability. Hitchens’s The Trial of Henry Kissinger, a concise and scathing indictment of the former Secretary of State, was released in May of 2001 and was soon followed by a by-the-book BBC documentary. The charges range widely: sabotaging President Johnson’s peace negotiations in Vietnam; cynically leading the Nixon administration’s escalation of bombings throughout Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; plotting the overthrow of a democratically-elected government in Chile; complicity with the Greek Colonel’s regime and their nefarious machinations in Cyprus; tacitly backing Pakistan’s genocidal civil war against Bangladesh; and giving the go-ahead to Suharto’s atrocity-ridden invasion of East Timor. Written to inflame moral outrage, Hitchens’s slim book portended a long campaign, but 9/11 ripped apart American politics and Hitchens broke with his narrow vision of the American Left in order to embrace the Bush administration and its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After five years of praising various “Pentagon intellectuals” (and somehow missing the presence of Kissingerians like L. Paul Bremer and John Negroponte throughout the administration), Hitchens was devastated to discover in late 2006 that Bush still took advice from the old monster himself. Kissinger still had the ear of the president. “Will we never be free of the malign effect of this little gargoyle?” Hitchens wailed in a Slate column.
Aside from the relatively rare Hitchensian amputation of Leftist sentiment and sense, and those limp moderates fearing a cycle of prosecutions for unspecified future crimes, Leftists concerned about American war crimes must trim another untidy feather of their own right wing; a Left interventionism that grew up in Bosnia and Kosovo and flew on to Iraq. Not all Left interventionists took this bellicose flight path, but a predominate form of Liberal hawkishness arising in the ’90s focused on the exigency of foreign atrocities at the price of forgetting the dark side of American military might, and too many ended up supporting the crusades of the Bush administration with too few caveats. The Canadian parliamentarian Michael Ignatieff, a prototypical Liberal Hawk, wrote in The Warrior’s Honor, that for the interventionist the mid-90s NATO incursions into Bosnia were:
“a theater of displacement, in which political energies that might otherwise have been expended in defending multiethnic society at home were directed instead at defending mythic multiculturalism far away. Bosnia became the latest bel espoir of a generation that had tried ecology, socialism, and civil rights only to watch all these lose their romantic momentum.”
Many of those Left hawks, like Ignatieff, who joined forces with neocon intellectuals over the “bel espoir” of Bosnia, rode that “romantic momentum” all the way to the Iraq War—only to later recant. (Ignatieff finally retracted his own support in 2007). Some of these Left hawks, in the first years of the Iraq War, got flirtatiously close to supporting the efficacy of torture as a means to combat a greater evil. In 2005, Hitchens praised Terrorism in the Grip of Justice, a ghoulish Iraqi TV-reality show featuring the renunciations of various battered insurgents and terrorists—some of whom, as the journalist Peter Maas has reported, turned up dead after their confessions were broadcast. Hitchens, while acknowledging in Slate that “the possibility exists that other confessions are either staged or coerced,” and that “[the] United States could not have put any of these people on television, because the Geneva Conventions forbid the exhibiting of prisoners,” nevertheless boldly concluded: “[in] my opinion, at any rate, the elected Iraqi authorities are well within their rights in using this means of propaganda.” Evidently snuff films are wrong for America, but some exceptions can be made for allied countries on the battlefront. For his part, Ignatieff wondered in The New York Times in early 2004 to what degree “[to] defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war,” before disavowing torture much more forcefully in The Prospect in 2006. Regeneration of liberal energies and policies starts at home and has a lot of housecleaning to do before it can confidently travel abroad. While the lesson may be learned, that doesn’t mean it won’t have to be repeated.
Aware of such fissures, how can the Left cultivate the moral awareness necessary to bring more attention to war crimes and call their perpetrators to justice? When it comes to questions of collective shame, the American media environment has always been awful, and since the rise of right-wing radio, FOX News and the trogosphere, the Left must contend with an even more amplified caricature of the shrieking liberal. Condemned by the Right for an apparent lack of sound bite patriotism, and for only harping on the ugly side of American politics that no one wants to see, the Left lacks a compelling frame to raise such dire issues, and it has been a surefire recipe for political disaster when it comes to electoral politics. John Kerry touched this third rail when the Bush campaign merely reminded voters of Kerry’s youthful participation in the Winter Soldier Project, a protest group in which the young Lieutenant acted as a spokesman for veterans who publicly admitted to atrocities in Vietnam. Attacked in the Swift Boat ads, Kerry could never construct a convincing narrative that bridged his youthful anti-war activism and his evolution into a bland US Senator, and his campaign sunk between those contradictions. Indeed, Kerry appeared so spooked by attacks on his past denunciations of American atrocities that he never made Abu Ghraib a major campaign issue.
Clearly then, American queasiness over confronting war crimes doesn’t have to emerge solely from the unhealed scars of the ’60s and ’70s in order to be politically perilous. In June of this year, Major General Anthony Taguba, the officer tasked with investigating the Bush administration’s culpability in the Abu Ghraib horror, publicly accused the sitting president of war crimes in a preface to a Physicians for Human Rights report. Taguba’s bold, declarative statement of guilt once more pointed to the gap between knowledge and acknowledgement:
“After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
Now, if you were a foreign journalist covering American politics you might think this political bombshell would searingly seal the gap between knowledge and acknowledgement and become a major issue dividing the nation in the 2008 election. No such luck. Taguba’s report received little sustained attention, and though candidate Obama critiqued Bush for his torture policies and vowed to end them, he was protected on his right flank by John McCain’s rhetorically similar position, and Obama never combined the words war crimes and prosecution in the same sentence. After all, he wanted to win. Having won, his administration will have to decide whether Taguba’s unequivocal statement rises to the standard of what Sunstein labeled “egregious” enough for prosecution.
A potential frame that is truly interested in “change” may reside not in the standard repertoire of Leftist tactics, but deeper in America’s Christian heritage—if moral awareness is to breach the stultifying cloud of cheap patriotism. Some genocide scholars, like Verdeja, remain cynical about the ability of the Left to strengthen its own resolve and win over the American public as to the necessity of pursuing war crimes. “The Left can’t touch these people [perpetrators],” he asserts. “The Right will have to do it, for only Nixon can go to China. It will take a rising, younger generation of conservatives. This has to be a self-critique within the Right, has to be a movement from the Right and this can only happen after a schism.” If there is to be a schism, and that looks tantalizingly apparent, there must be some way for the Left to win over the schismatics, the whole gamut from anti-war libertarians like Justin Raimondo to social conservatives truly concerned with moral values—perhaps like the conservative intellectuals Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat.
The renowned Christian political theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in his Moral Man and Immoral Society, recognized the value of patriotism but cautioned that American Christians must put their first allegiance above any worldly nation bounded by geography and time and dedicate themselves to the community of Christ. Niebuhr preached the necessity of using power to confront evil, but the wielder of that power must be constantly aware, as if through spiritual exercise, of how easily power corrupts and how badly it is perceived by those it is used against, no matter the moral claims. Christians must fight against the profound selfishness and delusion that accompany patriotism, and guard constantly against the imperial impulse that so easily flows from national self-righteousness. Obviously, this is not Sarah Palin’s Christianity, but the potential tools to bridge the gap between public knowledge and acknowledgement could reside in the broadly ecumenical Christian theology practiced by the majority of Americans. Leftists interested in advancing the moral imperative of bringing war crimes trials home would be negligent to overlook these opportunities. Conceptions of shame and redemption are present all throughout most Christian denominations, and a first step to utilizing them would be familiarity, while a second lays in making such appeals to audiences that claim to hold them. Successful examples of progressive moral movements run all throughout American history from the abolitionists to Martin Luther King Jr. and shouldn’t be forgotten in a more secular age.
If this really is a bridge too far, a rearguard strategy would be a prophylactic one of simply ending criminal policies such as torture, even if their perpetrators go unpunished. Verdeja notes that Americans
“have no history or stomach to put our leaders on trial for this sort of behavior, and clearly there will never be an international tribunal to hold them accountable. Nevertheless, it is important that we don’t simply assume that nothing can be done: we need to continue forcefully discussing and criticizing these policies, with the aim of putting an end to them under the new administration.”
By this logic, bruiting about the sins of war crimes, even if we never hold actual trials, could focus moral awareness to a degree that future crimes can be prevented at conception. A public campaign of shaming would be needed, and while it would require a new cultivation of moral awareness, it’s the least we could do.
If, however, the bridge between knowledge and acknowledgement is never built on Christian ethics, and waiting for a new generation on the Right willing to countenance criminal prosecution is futile, and promises of future abstention are not preventative enough, then maybe a thought experiment is in order. What if the Left were to encourage President Obama to just pull the trigger: institute war crimes tribunals for past officials through constitutional means and just eat the backlash as the price of higher justice? After all, if “we are the change we’ve be waiting for,” then who are the reactionary politicians—or what really are the political considerations—to say otherwise? As Niebuhr himself noted:
“Politics will, to the end of history, be an area where conscience and power meet, where the ethical and coercive factors of life will interpenetrate and work out their tentative and uneasy compromises. The democratic method of resolving social conflict, which some romanticists hail as a triumph of the ethical over the coercive factor, is really much more coercive than at first seems apparent.”
There are many forms of coercion. Coercion wielded through democratically attained political power, constitutionally undertaken and with a full Niebuhrian awareness of its dangers—though never an unalloyed good—may be a necessary one. Arrest and prosecution are forms of legal coercion, and if the longstanding critique is that the Left never knows how to wield power to protect or enact what it holds dear, then demanding the exercise of our political power on an issue of such import and moral clarity would be a strong proclamation of political arrival. It might even provide “change we can believe in,” as other progressive causes could be weighed in relation to the shame not solely of war crimes, but of poverty, inequality, or that of our vast and reprehensible prison-industrial complex. The precursor to this legal and political clash between conscience and power is that the moral exigency of prosecuting war crimes rises to the level of social conflict. The payoffs for such a mobilization and contestation might not be all bad. After all, nothing helps to advance previously resistant conceptions of shame quite like a conviction.
Maybe. While tempting, such an optimistic scenario cannot account for the shock waves sure to follow from the psychic detonation of seeing a former President of the United States in the dock. Or looking bewildered in a prison jumpsuit. This would be so startling, so previously unimaginable, that there’s no telling how the public would react or what the political reverberations might be. While a great precedent in terms of the power of the constitution, many Americans would view it as an assault on patriotism, on the pervasive view that America is fundamentally good. Would such an astonishing event be seen by the majority as a great cleansing, a release from past sins, or an egregious national humiliation enforced by a puritanical few?
It would be the emotional equivalent of regicide, and while our political ancestors, the British, beheaded their king only once in their history, they’ve been pretty uptight about it ever since. If we successfully pressed for war crimes trials for America’s former leaders, we’d have to accept the consequences that go along with a brand of justice for which the public is not yet prepared. Perhaps then, the best way to prepare would be start small, a few degrees of distance from the present regime. Henry Kissinger still breathes in freedom and that could be corrected.
This article, by Jim Lobe, was published by antiwar.com, February 5, 2009
Despite a shrinking national economy and a record defense budget, U.S. neoconservatives and other hawks are mounting a spirited – if misleading – campaign to persuade Congress that the military should get a bigger slice.
They are calling on Congress and President Barack Obama to boost military spending next year even beyond the projections made by the administration of former President George W. Bush as to what would be needed.
They are also arguing for devoting tens of billions of dollars of the nearly one-trillion-dollar economic stimulus package that Obama is trying to push through Congress by mid-February to defense spending, insisting that increased orders from largely U.S.-based military contractors should translate quickly into more jobs at a time when the official unemployment rate is moving quickly toward two digits.
"These kinds of expenditures not only make economic good sense, but would help close the large and long-standing gap between U.S. strategy and military resources," wrote Tom Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a predominantly neoconservative think tank, last month.
"If bridges need fixing, so too do the tools with which our military fights," he argued, adding that Congress should increase defense spending by at least 20 billion dollars a year. "A critical element in any recovery will be strengthening the foundations of a global economy, built upon U.S. worldwide security guarantees."
The campaign, which coincides with increased spending by major defense contractors for lobbying activities, comes at a critical moment for the new administration, which is focused more on getting the stimulus package passed quickly than on its precise content and on getting its key appointees confirmed and in place in the sprawling bureaucracies that make up the government.
The administration is also still putting together its fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget and is not expected to release details until next month, less than seven months before the fiscal year begins.
For now, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is insisting that the Pentagon's budget's be set at 527 billion dollars for next year, consistent with the Bush administration's estimates as to its needs for FY 2010, an eight percent increase over the current year's military budget.
That amount, which does not include the roughly 170 billion dollars Washington is spending this year on ongoing military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in what the Bush administration called the "global war on terror", already makes up more than 40 percent of the world's total military expenditures.
But, as pointed out this week by the influential Congressional Quarterly, the Pentagon's bureaucracy and hawks in think tanks and Congress are insisting that OMB's request actually amounts to a 10-percent cut in a 584-billion-dollar recommendation submitted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff last fall in an apparent attempt to pressure the incoming president into a major increase.
On Jan. 30, the conservative broadcast outlet, Fox News, quoted what it called a senior Defense official as saying that the administration was demanding a 55-billion-dollar cut in defense spending.
At that point, other voices jumped in. Max Boot, a neoconservative military analyst at the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), asserted that Pentagon chief Robert Gates had opposed the OMB's ceiling and warned that if Obama did not overrule it, "he could be doing terrible damage not only to our armed forces but also to his carefully cultivated image of moderation."
The following day, Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative ideologue at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, joined the outcry in his monthly column in the Washington Post, offering five reasons why "a ten percent cut in defense spending" could have disastrous geopolitical implications by signaling to U.S. enemies that "the American retreat has begun".
"At a time when people talk of trillion-dollar stimulus packages, cutting 10 percent from the defense budget is a pittance, especially given the high price we will pay in America's global position," he wrote. "...(T)his is not the time to start weakening the armed forces."
"It's pretty remarkable," said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation (NAF). "Obama agrees to Bush's (defense budget) increase, and the neocons are running around saying, 'Oh, he's gutting the military'."
Hartung and other defense analysts see this latest maneuver as part of a larger campaign by the Pentagon bureaucracy and the defense industry, which anticipated growing pressure on the defense budget even before the outbreak of the current financial crisis in September, to protect their interests even at a time when the Pentagon's political leadership recognizes that huge increases in military spending they enjoyed during the Bush era are not sustainable.
Overall, military spending increased by about 60 percent since Bush took office in 2001, not including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to the apparent disinformation about the alleged "cut" in defense spending, the Pentagon's allies in the media have been pushing hard for increased military spending to be made a part of the stimulus package.
That campaign was launched in late December when Martin Feldstein, former President Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser and an AEI fellow, argued in the Wall Street Journal for at least 30 billion dollars to expand military procurement, research, and recruitment. Such an expansion could create some 330,000 jobs, he estimated in an article entitled "Defense Spending Would Be Great Stimulus".
"Military procurement has the further advantage that almost all of the equipment and supplies that the military buys is made in the United States..." he noted. "...Because of the current very high and rising unemployment rates among young men and women," he added, "...now is also a good time for the military to increase recruiting and training."
Frank Gaffney, Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), quickly echoed that message in his weekly Washington Times column. "I have long believed it is a mistake to use the defense budget as a jobs program. We should buy military hardware because it is needed for our security, not to boost employment," he wrote.
"That said, where increased employment follows from making necessary investments in our armed forces' capabilities to fight today's wars – and, no less important, tomorrow's – it would be absurd not to include the Pentagon in an economic stimulus package."
Meanwhile, the major military contractors have stepped up their lobbying efforts. According to the Wall Street Journal, three of the biggest companies – Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and Northrop-Grumman – boosted their multi-million-dollar lobbying budgets by between 54 percent and 90 percent beginning in 2008 as it became clear that the Bush spending binge was nearing an end.
According to Hartung and other Pentagon critics, now is the critical moment for a reformist administration to begin cutting the defense budget, notably by canceling expensive conventional-weapons systems, such as the F-22 fighter jets and the V-22 Osprey aircraft that have proved both hugely expensive and of dubious utility.
"They have a chance to stop the train and start moving back in the right direction," he told IPS. "If they don't take it now, it'll just get harder down the road."
"The problem is they're not getting huge public pressure to cut, whereas they are getting a lot of pressure to spend more," he said.
In March of this year, the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will convene the Winter Soldier hearings in Washington, DC. "Winter Soldiers," according to Thomas Paine, are those who step up in behalf of their nation when things seem most bleak. With this in mind, IVAW members and others will courageously provide eyewitness accounts of their experiences of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though I do not speak for IVAW, it is their intent and hope, I suspect, that by telling the truth about these occupations, to provide, at the very least, the impetus for a long overdue national debate on the morality and legality of America's alleged "War Against Terrorism." Many who pride themselves as "patriots" will, I am sure, accuse these veterans and anyone else who actively condemns the war as immoral and advocates an immediate and total withdrawal, of being un-American, unpatriotic and even treasonous. Even among those who have become disenchanted with the lack of progress in Iraq and skeptical regarding its justifiability and necessity, there is an "intuition" that since we have committed our soldiers and treasure to the effort, patriotism requires that we support our troops, our president and ,ultimately, the war. At the very least, these "patriots" continue, if we truly love America, we should keep any misgivings to ourselves and just remain silent. Is it the case, therefore, that at least with regard to America's war in Iraq that morality and love of country are in conflict? That patriotism demands immoral behavior, or morality demands behavior that is unpatriotic even treasonous? It is the intent of this essay first to establish moral clarity regarding the war in Iraq and then to argue that morality and patriotism, correctly understood, require members of the military and their civilian counterparts to become Winter Soldiers and step up to end this immoral and tragic war.
Civilized nations and individuals accept, at least theoretically, that human beings have inalienable human rights, among them the right to life and to live in a nation that enjoys political sovereignty and territorial integrity (sometimes referred to as national rights). Such rights provide a natural immunity from, among other things, being injured and killed unjustifiably and having one's nation invaded and occupied without warrant. To kill an innocent person is murder, and "the (unprovoked and unjustified) invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack" is aggression. We believe as well that aggressed individuals and nations have a right of self- and national defense, i.e., to use violence, even deadly force/war, all things being equal, to assert these rights. Morally, we justify such a response with an understanding that the aggressors, by virtue of their violation of the rights of their victims, have forfeited their own (their immunity) and have become liable to be resisted - warred against - in justified self- and national defense.
The Iraq War
In the intervening years since the invasion of Iraq, it has become clear to all, with the possible exception of Fox Television Network viewers, that the attacks of September 11 were neither prosecuted nor supported by the people and/or the government of Iraq. While Saddam Hussein was a ruthless tyrant, at the time of the invasion, Iraq neither sought nor possessed weapons of mass destruction. Further, Iraq posed no real and immediate threat to the United States, Israel or any other Middle East nation. Nor were the Iraqis aggressors or terrorists. Nor did they support aggression or terrorism. Nor were they linked in any way to the aggression or to the terrorist attacks. Consequently, and this is crucial, the nation of Iraq and its citizens are innocent, having done nothing to warrant forfeiture of their natural immunity, i.e., their rights to life and to live in a nation that enjoys territorial integrity and political sovereignty.
Consequently, regardless of whether the decision to invade and occupy Iraq was the result of an honest mistake or something more insidious, the preemptive attack against the sovereign nation of Iraq, the killing of its citizens and its continued occupation are morally unjustifiable - an act of aggression and murder.
Clearly, President Bush and his cohorts - those who planned and initiated the invasion and misrepresented it as a just war against terrorism and to preserve freedom - must bear the preponderance of responsibility and, hence, culpability for the aggression. That having been said, however, the invading troops, despite their being mislead into believing their cause to be just, are agents of unwarranted, immoral and illegal violence - they violate the rights of the Iraqis. They are what I will term "unjustifiable combatants/innocent aggressors." Consequently, the invading/occupying troops must suffer the sanction of forfeiture of their natural immunity and become liable to be justifiably resisted and warred against by the Iraqis in self- and national defense.
The fact that the invaders and occupiers allege to target only Iraqi combatants, and discriminate and afford immunity to noncombatants (though many instances of collateral damage have been reported), is irrelevant both to a determination of whether the invasion is just and to judgments of the liability of the aggressors. The opposing combatants, despite being termed "insurgents" and "terrorists" by our political and military leaders, maintain their immunity and, this is crucial, their right to self- and national defense. Consequently, the Iraqi combatants and their allies do not forfeit the very rights they are justifiably and morally struggling to assert. They are justifiable combatants. It is not the case, therefore, because of a fierce "insurgent" resistance, that the aggressors can now claim their actions are morally justified by reasons of self-defense. All combatants are not moral equals.
At this writing, many in our country are celebrating the "success" of the surge and of the "new" military strategy in Iraq. However, military success and improved strategy do not afford a moral and legal basis for continuing, even escalating, the occupation - the aggression against, and murder of, the Iraqi people. How could achieving "victory" in such a scenario, i.e., the triumph of the aggressors, the murderers, over their victims, be morally justified?
The Moral Obligation NOT to Support the Troops Qua Warrior
Consider next the effect that recognizing the invasion and occupation of Iraq as aggression and the American troops as aggressors have upon the moral duties of all American citizens. To do so, I will refer the reader to the brutal and heinous attacks of September 11. It is clear that those who carried out these attacks were acting immorally. This is so, despite they, and others of their ilk, having been influenced, programmed or deceived into truly believing their cause to be just, and their attack to be a legitimate act of war - Jihad - against a nation and people that have, and continue in their view, to exploit, oppress and kill their fellow Muslims.
Further, these terrorists were willing to endure great personal sacrifice in behalf of others and possessed the state of mind and spirit that enabled them to face danger, fear and death with confidence, steadfastness, perseverance and resolve. Under very different conditions, perhaps we would regard such qualities as virtuous and worthy of admiration. However, theirs was an act of terrorism and, as such, unjust, immoral, unwarranted and a violation of the rights of those they attacked. Consequently, we do not characterize their behavior as courageous, noble and heroic. Nor do we find admirable their willingness to sacrifice themselves for others and for a cause in which they believed. Since aggression is the unjustifiable killing of innocent human beings (murder), I see no morally relevant difference between national aggression and terrorism prosecuted by sub-national groups such as Al-Qaeda. Consequently, the acts of the terrorists and those of the American aggressors and occupiers are similar enough morally to warrant comparison. Both the terrorists and the aggressors believed, erroneously, in the justice of their cause and in the culpability and liability of those they were targeting and killing. Both were well-intentioned - neither acting from greed or self-interest - and motivated by a sense of duty to members of their community.
Most importantly, both the terrorists and the aggressors violated the rights/immunity of innocent human beings. By parity of reasoning, then, despite their intended altruism and their willingness to face danger, fear and death with confidence, steadfastness, perseverance and resolve, the efforts of the aggressors, like those of the terrorists, are neither noble nor glorious. Nor should Muslims and the American citizenry feel gratitude and appreciation for their misguided benefactors' willingness to endure great personal sacrifice "in their behalf." Finally, immoral acts are not heroic, and the terrorists and the aggressors are not heroes. Based upon these observations, we can draw conclusions about the moral duties of American citizens relative to the war and their troops.
Given the nature and moral value of the invasion, the American citizenry (including members of the military) is morally obligated, first and foremost, not to participate in the aggression, that is, to avoid enlisting into the military or refusing to fight (what I term the moral duty of "non-participation"). Further, they are morally obligated not to support the troops in their aggression, that is, what I will term "qua warrior." Neither should they praise their aggressive actions, nor admire their personal qualities, nor appreciate their efforts, nor celebrate their accomplishments (the duty of non-complicity). If anything, they are morally obligated to sympathize with, support and admire the efforts of the victims, the Iraqis, in their struggle against aggression, since morality demands that we respect the rights and dignity of all innocent human beings.
The Moral Obligation to Support the Troops Qua Human Being
As in any war, even a just war, there may be individual soldiers whose questionable motives and intentions affect the morality of their actions or the degree of their responsibility. For the most part, however, no one joins the military or fights in war (or even uses terrorism as a tactic) to commit murder. Further, I think it is fair to say that a goodly number of those who serve in the military - especially during a war - are either the conscripted and the coerced or the underprivileged and the destitute. Their motivation in serving is only to survive and return home or to improve their standard of living and receive job training or financial support for college. Even of those who willingly enlist and consider themselves professional soldiers, the vast majority, though sometimes misguided (as is the case in Iraq), sincerely believe they are doing moral things for a moral nation.
Given the gravity of the endeavor in which they are to engage, however, we do expect soldiers, before participating in the fighting, and civilians, before accepting conscription or volunteering, to evaluate, morally and legally, the war in which they will engage. Further, it would be meritorious, perhaps even morally required, depending upon the severity of the sanctions, for soldiers and civilians to have the moral courage and fortitude to refuse to participate in or support wars that are immoral. Finding out the truth about war, however, is very difficult and seldom certain.
To appreciate the ability of governments to deceive, convince and coerce citizens into supporting an immoral war, one need only consider recent history and the plethora of sincere and astute intellectuals, clergymen and women, scholars and politicians (some of whom are currently vying to become president) who were convinced that war with Iraq was warranted because they possessed weapons of mass destruction, were complicit in the attacks of 9/11, and posed a real and immediate threat to the survival of our nation and all we hold dear.
It is not only a lack of information, however, that makes the decision not to support or to fight the war so problematic and tragic. The magnitude of the social pressures (real or perceived) brought to bear upon young adults is such that, for many, deciding not to serve while others "go in their place" may require even more courage and determination than facing injury and death on the battlefield.
In regard to the preemptive invasion of Iraq, members of the military have been influenced, manipulated and coerced by the president into believing the threat from Iraq to be real and their cause to be just and necessary.
Further, given the sophistication of the deception and the unavailability of accurate information, they were not derelict in their responsibility as soldiers to morally evaluate the case for war. There is a real sense, then, in which they are themselves victims, deceived into risking injury and death for a mistake or to forward their president's illegal and immoral agenda. These morally relevant circumstances entail that the members of the military are not fully responsible for their aggression, hence their status as "innocent" aggressors. They are what I will term "diminished culpability combatants."
Let us be clear. Diminished culpability does not mean that the aggression is justified, or that the aggressors are morally blameless (non-culpable and non-liable). Nor does it mean that they are excused (absolved of all responsibility) for their aggression. Blame and latent responsibility of the troops for their aggression is indicated by their liability. That is, their aggression warrants their suffering the forfeiture of their immunity - they can justifiably be resisted, warred against, in self/national defense. What the recognition of diminished culpability does suggest is an understanding and appreciation of the persuasive and coercive power of governments and the socialization pressures in a political community.
Perhaps most importantly for our purposes, it recognizes the moral relevance, first, of the adolescent/young adult soldier not being in a position to make an informed judgment about the war and, second, that the level of coercion that soldier experiences makes it difficult, if not impossible, to decide otherwise than to serve and to fight.
Consequently, given these extenuating conditions, their moral and legal culpability may be ameliorated post bellum. Further, while citizens are morally obligated not to support the troops qua warrior, compassion and respect for persons does require a moral obligation to act in the interest of all those victimized by war - whether they be innocent Iraqis or American diminished culpability combatants. This duty to assist, or what I term "supporting the troops qua human being," entails doing what is truly in the troops physical, psychological, emotional and moral interest. Most importantly, citizens must strive, through protest, dissent and condemnation of the immoral war, to influence policy and bring pressure to bear upon their leaders to end the aggression against - the occupation of - Iraq and the exploitation and victimization of their own troops.
Further, they should discourage troop participation in the war by, first, exposing the war's immorality and the deception of their leaders. Secondly, the troops should be reminded that, at least since Nuremberg, their moral and legal obligations as soldiers require neither blind obedience to orders nor unquestioning trust in the decisions of their leaders. Third, they must strive to create an environment in which adolescents/young adults feel empowered to act upon their moral convictions and refuse conscription, enlisting in the military and/or fighting. Fourth, moral refusers and deserters must be supported and provided protection either through selective conscientious objector laws, legal defense funds or, more drastically, by providing sanctuaries from military apprehension and prosecution.
Finally, compassion and the principle of respect for persons requires that the American citizenry strive to ensure that the troops receive the necessary care and treatment for the physical, psychological, emotional and moral injuries that are the inevitable consequences of their experiences in war, especially an immoral war. Overall, therefore, citizens, military and non-military alike, are morally obligated to become Winter Soldiers.
Patriotism and Love of Country
I am certain that some who will listen to the testimony of the Winter Soldiers will be outraged regarding the insinuation that the atrocities committed by Americans in Iraq go well beyond Abu Ghraib and Haditha. I am certain as well that some reading this essay will be outraged that I dare equate the war in Iraq to the attacks of 9/11, members of the American military to the Al-Qaeda terrorists, and that I advocate not supporting the troops qua warrior. I am also sure that this outrage will lead many readers to question the veterans' and my patriotism and love of America, perhaps even to accuse us of moral treason. In response, I would remind these critics that their version of unquestioned "patriotism" and "love of America" entails an indifference to, and disregard for, the principles of morality and the tenets of International Law - the very characteristics of a rogue nation that we point to when proposing and justifying military action.
Further, it ignores justice in favor of a might-over-right philosophy, betraying an arrogance that brings our nation neither honor nor prestige in the world, but rather hatred and righteous indignation. Most tragically, perhaps, it denigrates the very foundations and all we hold sacred as a nation - justice and fairness for all.
Further, I would point out that morality is not a means of gaining strategic or tactical military advantage, to be abandoned or manipulated should its tenets prove inconvenient to furthering the national interest, or even unsupportive of the actions of those with whom we share allegiance. If morality is to have any meaning and if individuals and nations are to avoid hypocrisy, morality must be universally and fairly applied without prejudice, bias or consideration of national identity.
To feel an impetus to support our country's actions and an attachment and concern for fellow citizens serving in the military is understandable. Further, once the fighting has begun and our troops placed in harm's way, it is also understandable that citizens may be motivated to ignore, overlook and/or rationalize the immorality of the war and of their soldiers' actions. They may even hope for their troops' speedy victory and triumphant return even at the expense of the deaths of their innocent victims. However, their support for aggression and murder and for the troops qua warrior, their hypocrisy and arrogance, and disregard for justice and morality, while perhaps understandable, is morally unjustifiable, un-American, unpatriotic and integral to the question they themselves pose so often but seldom answer: "Why do they hate us?"
The true patriot, therefore, does not blindly follow and obey, but questions the actions of his leaders and, when necessary, brings attention to the defilement or abandonment of the values we hold dear. Consequently, in times such as these, morality and patriotism demand Winter Soldiers. That is, true patriots who, despite great personal sacrifice, struggle tirelessly and courageously, to restore America's integrity and moral standing in the world, and hold accountable those political leaders who have violated the public trust by acting not in America's interest, but in behalf of wealth, power and empire.