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American soldiers teasing children for water in Afghanistan

The rest of the world, almost unanimously, looks at America as the No. 1 warmonger. That we revert to armed conflict almost at the drop of a hat — and quite often it’s not only desired by the leaders of our country, but it’s also supported by the people of America.

You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy – David Masciotra

It’s been 70 years since we fought a war about freedom. Forced troop worship and compulsory patriotism must end

Nov. 9 2014

Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.

Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.

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American Sniper: The Casualties of War Live Far Beyond the Grave | AmericaWakieWakie

American Sniper has been in theaters a while now. On the surface it is the story of a Navy SEAL named Chris Kyle, dubbed “The deadliest sniper in American history”, and his military exploits throughout the American invasion of Iraq. But beyond the conspicuous lobby for patriotism I saw a window into something else, something that the Joseph Goebbels (read: Clint Eastwood) of America cannot take credit for. I am reminded that not only does war steal the lives of countless people, but it murders the living too — of lives we could have lived. Films like American Sniper highlight that war-idolizing is a weapon of mass destruction, and when wielded on the spiritual and moral fronts of a war for our collective humanity, often the battle rips asunder the relationships we hold most dear. It is a reminder that when the dust settles and the shells are spent, the casualties of war live far beyond the grave.

Every Casualty Doesn’t Get Buried

When my brother first left for basic training he was 17. I was a year and a half younger, a soon-to-be sophomore in high school. With my Aunt, Uncle, and my cousins whom I had come to call sisters, we drove the six hour trip to the training grounds of the Army’s mechanized infantry units in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was a small place. Were it not for the military it would scarcely have a name. We had come because my brother was graduating from the first half of his training, this before he had even entered his senior year in high school. Everybody was really proud of him. I was proud of him.

Seeing him for the first time after a summer was emotional. I had never fully agreed with his choice to join the military; but, he being my blood, I had committed myself to supporting him and his decision. After all, the young man standing in fatigues before me had been through more with me than any person on the planet. Together we had weathered growing up brown in Mississippi, where if you were not white and you were not black, you were the exotic anomaly constantly berated with the probing and dehumanizing question of “What are you?” We had survived our father, a white man imbued with the racism of a poor Southerner who had eaten Jim Crow and whose yelling and long lectures came from the nightly bartering of his soul with a bottle. We lived through the divorces, survived foster care, endured the court battles, and had begun to work ourselves from the poverty we were born into.

Through all of that I thought this man deserved my support. But more than anything I knew if he were to one day see combat I would want to see him home again — alive. That if ever in some small way his return would rest upon a brother’s unconditional love, then I would see that love through no matter what. So when he left for his first tour in Iraq I did everything in my power to make sure he had what he needed to get back home — writing letters, getting his friends to write letters, sending him little things like baby wipes because that mattered in desert warfare. Some semblance of being clean after the grit of combat mattered. Whatever I could do to keep his spirits high, I did. I wanted the chance to wrestle with him again, to hug him and have a beer with him again, to tell him he is a good man and that he could be something else, if he wanted.

Time has a way of changing everything. Throughout his absence, despite my material support, I had become increasingly politicized. I questioned more than anything whether my brother’s potential death in Iraq would be defending my right to exist in a free and just world, or was he being used by the United States government as a cog in the most prolific machine of violence the planet has ever seen.

I remember getting a call from him one night after he had a fight with his partner. It seemed that nobody, not her, not our family, nobody but his follow servicemen and I were being supportive of the stressful re-entrance into civilian life. That night he bawled as he shared a gut-wrenching story about an Iraqi girl whom, along with her family, had been killed and dismembered into a pile for helping coalition troops through an IED field. He shared other stories with me too. He often wielded a 50 caliber machine gun fixed atop a Humvee. One bullet from that gun could blast a watermelon to mush. It can fire over 500 rounds per minute, I learned. He never said it, but I got the feeling that he took his own personal retribution on behalf of that girl.

At some point I understood that he must have been struggling to understand his choices, to recreate a code of morality he could live with, that made sense after his own was shattered by the brutality of what he had seen and done. He would be the one to have to live with those memories, nobody else. As I sat there holding him, struggling to understand his PTSD and the situations he had been in — the reality of shooting back when if you hesitated you would surely die — I could not shake the fact that every bullet sent from his gun, every life taken, was still in service of the American war machine.

That thought kept coming back to me. The more I revisited why America had invaded Iraq, the more I came to a conclusion which placed me fundamentally opposed to my brother’s continued enlistment. Rapidly it became a point of tension between us.

That tension culminated in a moment before his departure for his second tour in Iraq. He came to me with an impossible question, one that in hindsight could never have mended the distance emerging between us. In a heated discussion he asked me, “If I died in combat tomorrow, would you be proud of my service?” Everything in me curled with the stress of telling him what he needed to hear, to again shoulder being the support he would need, or being honest. It is a moment I still think about frequently. I replay it saying something different, but then I feel I would have betrayed myself and the millions whom have died at the hands of American imperialism. In the moment I told him “No” I lost the family I loved most.

Nothing between us has ever been the same. Every time I mull it over salt rubs deeper into the wound. I wince. I cry. I relive the pain of no longer knowing my brother, of knowing the War Machine ripped him from me. He is still in the military and I am still in the streets fighting American oppression. We chose different sides, and the palpable truth of it is our brotherhood took a bullet the day he enlisted.

The wound from it still bleeds. It bleeds every day.

Effective Propaganda Makes You Feel

Watching American Sniper makes me think about my brother. That’s the point of it: Propaganda done right makes you feel. It makes you engage in a moral dilemma with yourself. And if it is targeted with accurate knowledge of its audience, the dilemma will almost always resolve itself. It’s a bit like playing a rigged game — if you were not a part of rigging the game, then the only way to win is not to play. This is the effectiveness of Clint Eastwood’s film. It was made for White America and therefore it intentionally pulls at the heartstrings of the people who feverishly believe in the myth that America is the bastion of freedom and democracy, because that too was a myth made for White America. And they believe it so thoroughly that a film like American Sniper slams the door shut on any discussion to the contrary. I know so, because I share many of the lived experiences of white Americans.

In one of the opening scenes a young Chris Kyle is out hunting deer with his father. Kyle shoots a deer and then runs over to the dead animal through tall golden grass and amidst sparsely branched pine trees. He drops his rifle in his haste and his father commands “Get back here! You don’t ever leave your rifle in the dirt.” I knew that rule. My white father taught it to me before I was ten years old when I learned to hunt. The movie shifts to a scene in a church where a pastor is preaching the ways of God, that none can know them because man cannot see with the eyes of God. I knew that one too. A church full of white people told me this years before I was baptized into a Southern congregation.

Then the film snaps to a scene where Kyle is sitting with his family at the supper table. His father breaks off into a lecture about the three types of people in the world: the Sheep, the Wolf, and the Sheep Dog. He says the Sheep believe evil does not exist and if it were to show up on their doorstep they would not know how to defend themselves. He goes on to say then you have predators whom use violence to prey on the weak. These are the Wolves. Lastly, he says there are those “Blessed with the gift of aggression and overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the Sheep Dog.” He takes his belt off and slams it on the table and announces, “We ain’t raising no Sheep in this house and I’ll kick your ass if you become a Wolf!” Kyle’s little brother has a bruised eye, so his father questions them both only to find that Kyle had intervened in his brother getting beat up by the playground bully. His father says if somebody else starts a fight; they have his permission finish it. I learned that one too. My white father told me “Don’t throw the first punch, but if somebody hits you first, you better finish it.”

These three scenes frame the entire movie for the emotional engagement of a specific audience. You see, the first scene tells us that in the eyes of White America, only they have family values. Kyle learning to use a gun at such an early age is him gaining the values, which serve doubly as the literal tools, those which can only be acquired through the specific lived experiences of white Americans, necessary to defend freedom and democracy. The second scene tells us that White America’s God, the one true White Christian God, is the only giver of righteousness and that righteousness has been bestowed upon Kyle to use at his discretion. We are not supposed to question whether this is good or otherwise, or WHY it would be good, because we cannot see through the eyes of God. And finally, we learn that Kyle is a Sheep Dog imbued with all the tools necessary, with the “gift of aggression”, to do God’s will of defending America.

Ultimately this tells us the film is not even about Chris Kyle. The young man turned sniper is the physical incarnation of White America. Viewed through the third scene, Kyle becomes the stand-in for America’s imperialism, the embodiment of itself as the Sheep Dog bestowed with the “gift of aggression” and the overpowering charge to protect the Western way of life by any means necessary, and, of course, with God’s blessing. At this point we have to ask the obvious question: If Chris Kyle represents the Sheep Dog of White America, who then is the Wolf?

In overwhelmingly jingoistic fashion, film maker Clint Eastwood answers repeatedly: Muslims.

After watching Kyle — aka, America — repeatedly kill one Iraqi after another, all of whom miraculously are guilty of some crime, it is hard to arrive at any other conclusion. No matter how wrapped in star-spangled banners, Eastwood essentially tells us the real crime is being born brown, Iraqi, and Muslim. We are not supposed to question whether these things are actually criminal or punishable with death. We are not allowed to ask WHY because we are not meant to understand the God-guided ways of America. But that is the whole point of it: You cannot win a rigged game, remember. You can only win if you built the game, and those who built American Sniper want you to walk away with a specific belief system, namely:

  • White America, like Chris Kyle, is good, just, and knows best.
  • White Americans, like Chris Kyle, who love their country support American government.
  • Real Americans, like Chris Kyle, are patriotic and express their support.
  • White American lives, like Chris Kyle’s life, are more important than Muslim lives.

This belief system is everywhere. American imperialism is framed in such a way that when the United States commits violence against Muslims, it appears to White America as if the Sheep Dog is simply protecting a defenseless herd. This is the active dissemination of white supremacy and Islamophobia. From it Americans like Chris Kyle accrue social capital and power within a conception of Islam that perpetuates Muslim dehumanization and murder. Completing the cycle, White America, after participating in the process of dehumanizing Muslims slain by United States military personnel, then offers sympathy, material support, and memorialization to the most lethal of war veterans.

American Sniper is meant only to bolster that belief system by exploiting our lived experiences. It does so in such a way that if we do not side with Chris Kyle and the American War Machine, we may just be deciding our own brothers and sisters are facilitators of the evil we seek to eradicate from the world. For most of us the thought that we, or the ones we love, are the problem is unconscionable.

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Ten years ago.

On October 26, 2001 President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law. This bill authorized warrantless wiretapping, “sneak and peek” searches of American property without notification, and the seizure of “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation in addition to many other provisions. This bill was renewed and expanded in scope by President Barack Obama on May 26, 2011. Since its inception and to this day, independent reporting has revealed that the authority granted by the bill has been abused in almost every possible dimension.

 

Ten years ago.

On November 13, 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Military Order on the Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism. This order authorized the creation of secret military tribunals for the detention, treatment and trial of non-citizens deemed “terrorists” or “enemy combatants” in the war on terror. These tribunals are appointed at the discretion of the President. Further, the President granted his office the sole authority to determine who is subject to these tribunals via designation as a “terrorist” or “enemy combatant”. Both these tribunals and the designation of “terrorists” or “enemy combatants” operate without public knowledge or independent scrutiny. 

 

Five years ago.

On June 29th, 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that such military tribunals were unauthorized under existing federal law and were in conflict with the Geneva Convention. Less than five months later, on October 17, 2006 the United States Congress and President George W. Bush created and formalized such authority by passing and signing the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

 

Three years ago.

On December 1st, 2008 the Department of Defense planned to train and deploy over 20,000 troops across the continental United States for potential future civil unrest, peacekeeping, and “mass-casualty” scenarios. The target year for deployment is 2011.

 

This year.

On September 30th, 2011 an American citizen abroad in Yemen was killed by a predator drone at the order of President Barack Obama. No charge, trial, or evidence has been provided or promised by the President.

 

One month ago.

On November 17th 2011, Occupy movements across the country were simultaneously violently dismantled and evicted by local authorities. It was later revealed that President Barack Obama, through the Department of Homeland Security, had coordinated and advised mayors around the country on how and when to best suppress their own people.

 

Last week.

On December 1st, 2011 the United States Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that designated the territorial United States as a militarized “war zone”. Section 1031of the NDAA permits the President to detain ANY UNITED STATES CITIZEN indefinitely without evidence, charge, or trial so long as they are named a terrorist in the secret and inscrutable process named above. Should a citizens detained as such ever actually be charged and tried, they would go through a secret military tribunals rather than a United States court. This militarization of civil law would be the final act in the long degrading of the 133 year old Posse Comitatus Act which was passed to separate the military from domestic law enforcement.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the NDAA but not out of concern for the citizenry’s civil liberties. This is not accurate. President  Barack Obama’s administration specifically requested the removal of protection for United States citizens from such detention powers and claimed anything less would interfere with his office. Rather, the President’s veto threat is “because the extraordinary powers it would hand him are in some cases less sweeping and more constraining than what he has asserted for himself via frustratingly secret Office of Legal Counsel memos”.

 

This Week.

On December 5th, 2011 a document was leaked in which the City of London Police force had designated the Occupy London protestors as terrorists. They were classified as equivalents to Al-Qaeda.

 

Yesterday.

On December 7th, 2011 the United States House of Representatives voted to close hearings on the NDAA’s controversial provisions from public viewing or record. The bill is expected to pass without serious opposition.

 

Today.

On December 8th, 2011 I learned that the pentagon has given over $500M in military weapons to city police this year for FREE, military drones are planned for domestic surveillance in the near future, and that even PBS is openly questioning whether we live in a police state.

 

Tomorrow.

I don’t know what fresh attack the government will bring upon the people of our country tomorrow but I do know that it is coming. Join your friends, family, and countrymen in resistance so that our government may remain OF, BY, and FOR its people.

Please write your elected representative right now to voice your disastisfaction with the NDAA.

- ataxiwardance

(art from here)

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

- Thomas Paine, The American Crisis No. I (published 23 December 1776)

I would like to see every single soldier on every single side, just take off your helmet, unbuckle your kit, lay down your rifle, and set down at the side of some shady lane, and say, nope, I ain’t a gonna kill nobody. Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns.
—  Woody Guthrie