Peace

Shooting in a Moral Vacuum

CLINT EASTWOOD has made films about the sorrow and repeating pointlessness of war, as seen through the eyes of both aggressor and aggressed-against, with empathic performances and unbearably moving impact. His American Sniper, about the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, bloodied in Iraq and struggling at home, is not one of those films. At best it’s a valuable character study of a confused warrior, revealing the traumatic effect of his service. At worst it’s a jingoistic and xenophobic attempt to put varnish on a terrible national response to the horror of 9/11, a response that became a self-inflicted wound creating untold collateral damage.

A decade ago, Eastwood made Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, which saw World War II soldiers as propaganda fodder and had the moral imagination to show both sides as courageous and broken without denying the difference between attacker and defender. These films are respectful and thoughtful, but American Sniper is arguably a work born in vengeance. Its reception (becoming one of the biggest January box office weekends ever, and a quick right-wing favorite) is part of the failure to deal in an integrated way with the wounds of 9/11, or to even begin to face the reality of the war in Iraq: an imperial conquest using the cover of national trauma as a justification.

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#BlackLivesMatter Meet Stokely Carmichael

IN AN undistinguished apartment around the corner from my house in Columbia Heights, the Black Power revolutionary Stokely Carmichael honed his forceful, insistent rhetoric and organizing genius. His apartment effectively served as the Washington, D.C. headquarters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Historian Peniel E. Joseph’s recently released Carmichael biography, Stokely: A Life, traces this complicated American revolutionary with nuance and freshness critical in our era of resurging black youth-led movements. Regarding Carmichael’s D.C. years, Joseph describes the intellectual crucible that was Howard University at the time.

The Caribbean-born, Harlem-raised Carmichael lived in D.C. from 1960, when he enrolled at Howard as a philosophy major, to 1965, when he relocated to Lowndes County, Ala., as a fulltime organizer for the black freedom struggle. For five critical years, Carmichael—who was raised Methodist and would later found the Black Panthers and become a leading anti-colonial, pan-Africanist living in Guinea (changing his name to Kwame Touré)—honed his organizing skills and revolutionary perspective from his student apartment on Euclid Street.

The fall of 1960 followed the culmination of the first wave of sit-ins sparked by the North Carolina A&T students in Greensboro. Ella Baker had encouraged students to break from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and form their own youth-led organization, which became SNCC. Black campuses, including Howard, were on fire with possibility. Carmichael’s freshman English teacher was future Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Poet Sterling Brown, called “the dean of Negro literature,” mentored Carmichael, urging him to pay “attention to the voices of not just the dignified but also the damned.”

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All Eyes Are Upon Us

Mother, mother / There’s too many of you crying / Brother, brother, brother / There’s far too many of you dying            —Marvin Gaye

then they stomped
          John Willet
as he lay on the sidewalk
hands cuffed behind his back
and shot
                      Michael Brown

who was on his way this fall to college

Stop and frisk
Stop and frisk

and used a chokehold to kill

                    Eric Garner

who sold cigarettes one-by-one
on the street in Staten Island
and punched again, again
in the face
great-grandmother

                Marlene Pinnock

as she lay on the ground
then they stood around while
an angry bartender
pushed vet

                William Sager

down the stairs to his death;
maybe helped hide
the security videotape
then it was
unarmed

               Dillon Taylor

in Salt Lake City, and
homeless

              James Boyd

in Albuquerque

and       Darrien Hunt

in Saratoga Springs, Utah—
how about that grandmother
92-year-old

             Kathryn Johnston

shot to death in a SWAT team raid
gone bad?

in ’73 in Dallas

             Santos Rodríguez

was marked by officer Cain
who played Russian Roulette
with the handcuffed 12-year-old
in his cruiser—
till the .357 fired; Santos’ blood
all over his 13-year-old handcuffed
brother David

and those cries of
19-month-old      Bounkham Phonesavanh
in whose crib
the flash-bang grenade exploded

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Neither Despair Nor Complacency

IN JUNE 1966, Sen. Robert Kennedy joined the National Union of South African Students for a conference held in Cape Town. Tension was running high. NUSAS president Ian Robertson had been banned under the Suppression of Communism Act, and the pressure was on Kennedy, from both the apartheid government and sectors of the anti-apartheid movement, not to attend.

Kennedy went anyway and delivered one of the best speeches of his career. “Few have the greatness to bend history itself,” Kennedy reminded the students. “But each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [s/he] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope ... daring those ripples to build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Twenty-eight years later Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The West embraced him, celebrating his magnanimity, “disremembering” the support it gave to the very apartheid regime Mandela worked to dismantle.

In the years that followed, Mandela’s leadership enabled a country to project itself beyond the cognitive illusion that suggested there was no way out of a pending Armageddon. He insisted that things only seem impossible until there is the will to make them possible. He created and energized that will, injecting optimism and political excitement into a desperate situation. When an overenthusiastic supporter called Mandela a “saint,” he responded, “No, just a sinner who keeps trying.”

At the time of Kennedy’s 1966 speech, however, Nelson Mandela was in prison, serving a life sentence for sabotage under apartheid; no one realized he was among the “few” who would succeed in bending history. And as we know now, there are certain things that even Mandela could not do.

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The Power of Peacebuilding

THE PEACE MOVEMENT needs a stronger response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is not enough merely to oppose deepening U.S. military involvement. We must also identify viable diplomatic and political options for countering the ISIS danger and reducing violence in the region.

President Obama has said there is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq, but his administration has relied heavily on bombing as its main response to ISIS. Since August, the United States and about a dozen other states have launched more than 1,900 air strikes against ISIS and militant groups in Iraq and Syria. Approximately 80 percent of the strikes have been conducted by U.S. forces, mostly jet fighters but also armed drones. The strikes have had the effect of halting further ISIS encroachments into Iraq and have enabled Kurdish fighters to regain some ground in the northern part of Iraq. In Syria, however, ISIS reportedly has continued to gain ground despite the U.S.-led attacks.

U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria is having unintended effects that could make matters worse. Battling the United States gives ISIS a transcendent objective beyond its political agenda in Iraq and Syria and distracts local attention from its brutal policies. It allows ISIS to portray itself as the victim and to claim that it is defending Islam from Western attack. After the start of airstrikes in August, support for the group increased. The strikes in Syria have also targeted the al Nusra Front and have generated pressure for rival groups to close ranks. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS has not declared war on the United States, but it may now rethink its strategic focus and plan attacks on the “far enemy,” to use al Qaeda’s term.

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Resisting ISIS

IN JULY 2013 in Raqqa, the first city liberated from regime control in northeastern Syria, a Muslim schoolteacher named Soaad Nofal marched daily to ISIS headquarters. She carried a cardboard sign with messages challenging the behaviors of members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as un-Islamic after the kidnapping of nonviolent activists. After Nofal was joined by hundreds of other protesters, a small number of activists were released. It is a small achievement, but an indication of what communities supported in responsible ways from the outside could achieve on a larger scale in areas controlled or threatened by ISIS.

In the fight against ISIS, unarmed civilians would seem to be powerless. How can collective nonviolent action stand a chance against a heavily armed, well-financed, and highly organized extremist group that engages in public beheadings, kidnappings, and forced recruitment of child soldiers and sex slaves? One whose ideology sanctions the killing of “infidels” and the creation of a caliphate?

Nonviolent resistance alone cannot defeat this radical scourge. The global response must be multifaceted. Still, as the international anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States considers nonmilitary options to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, it should focus on empowering local civil society in Syria and Iraq with targeted resources, technologies, and knowledge to build resilience and deny ISIS the moral and material support it needs to wield effective control. Public and private investments in independent media and local self-organization initiatives, including those led by women, are two key ways to counter ISIS influence.

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The Front Page Rule

Still courtesy C-SPAN
Still courtesy C-SPAN

After a week here in FMC Lexington Satellite camp, a federal prison in Kentucky, I started catching up on national and international news via back issues of USA Today available in the prison library. An "In Brief" item, on p. 2A of the Jan. 30 weekend edition, caught my eye. It briefly described a protest in Washington, D.C., in which members of the antiwar group "Code Pink" interrupted a U.S. Senate Armed Services budget hearing chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The protesters approached a witness table where Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and George Schulz were seated. One of their signs called Henry Kissinger a war criminal. "McCain," the article continued, "blurted out, 'Get out of here, you low-life scum.'"

At mail call, a week ago, I received Richard Clarke's novel, The Sting of the Drone, about characters involved in developing and launching drone attacks. I'm in prison for protesting drone warfare, so a kind friend ordered it for me. The author, a former "National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism," worked for 30 years inside the U.S. government but seems to have greater respect than some within government for concerned people outside of it. He seems also to feel some respect for people outside our borders.

He develops, I think, a fair-minded approach toward evaluating drone warfare given his acceptance that wars and assassinations are sometimes necessary. (I don't share that premise). Several characters in the novel, including members of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, criticize drone warfare, noting that in spite of high level, expensive reconnaissance, drone attacks still kill civilians, alienating people the U.S. ostensibly wants to turn away from terrorism.

Time for a Cyberweapons Treaty?

MANY QUESTIONS remain about the alleged North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures and the U.S. response. But the Christmas controversy, apparently triggered by the Seth Rogen-James Franco satire film The Interview, has made one thing perfectly clear: A lot has changed on the internet since Al Gore didn’t invent it.

Back in the days of Gore, the net was an attempt to provide a secure and resilient military communications network during our Cold War with the Soviet Union. But by the turn of this century, it had become an unrivaled public forum for democratic activism and an absolute paradise for shoppers and porn addicts. Now the internet is getting back to its military roots. It is both the weapon and the battleground for United States’ simmering low-level wars with not only North Korea, but China, Iran, Russia, and anyone else who gets in the way.

For several years there has been a steady trickle of back-page news stories about cyberwarfare. The Chinese military seemed to be hacking U.S. government and business sites for military and industrial espionage. Two years ago the Chinese were said to have hacked The New York Times in revenge for that paper’s reporting on the financial corruption of China’s leadership. North Korea has allegedly attacked banking networks in South Korea. Attacks said to originate in Russia have hit U.S. and European energy companies. In 2009, the ante was upped when the U.S. and Israel unleashed the Stuxnet virus to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. The virus destroyed Iranian centrifuges, but it also escaped to the broader internet and sabotaged computers at the U.S.-based Chevron oil company.

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Were You There?

THE GRAINY, STUTTERING surveillance footage shows police milling about, offering no medical assistance to the 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, one of them has just shot. They only spring into action when the boy’s older sister runs into the frame toward her brother. An officer tackles the girl, knocking her back in the snow, then cuffs her and puts her in the patrol car, only a few feet from her dead or dying brother.

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