US Special Operations Command Trained Military Unit Accused of Death Squad Killings in Honduras March 1, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: annie bird, assassination, campesinos, central america, death squads, honduran military, Honduras, human rights, indigenous, indigenous massacre, indigenous rights, Latin America, military, roger hollander
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This article is based entirely on the report “Human Rights Violations Attributed to Military Forces in the Bajo Aguan Valley in Honduras” published on February 20, 2013. To see the full report with citations:
Since January 2010, there has been a constant stream of killings of members of land rights, campesino movements in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras. At least 88 campesino movement members and supporters have been killed, along with five bystanders apparently mistaken for campesinos. Most recently, on Feb. 16 two campesinos were killed–Santos Jacobo Cartagena was gunned down while waiting for a bus, and Jose Trejo, an outspoken advocate for the investigation of his brother’s Sept. 22, 2012 murder, was shot while driving.
While the 2010 and 2011 State Department human rights reports described deaths of campesinos in the Aguan as the result of “confrontations” between palm oil corporation’s security forces and campesino farmers who claim the land was stolen by the agri-businessmen, only six of the killings have occurred on disputed land during land occupations or evictions. In contrast, 78 were targeted assassinations, 8 of those preceded by abductions, their tortured bodies found later; another 3 victims remain disappeared. Fifty-three people were shot while driving, riding their bicycles or walking along public roads. Another 13 were assassinated in their homes or while working on farms not in dispute.
All of this points to one explanation: a death squad is operating in the Aguan. This is not news to anyone who lives there, where it is considered common knowledge and it is widely understood that police and military participate in the killings. Dozens of acts of violence and intimidation have been carried out by the Honduran military against campesino communities over the same time period and geographical area where the death-squad killings have targeted campesinos, lending greater credibility to the charge.
Local residents and national press have reported the presence of U.S. Army Rangers in the area since at least 2008, and public records of the U.S. government confirm their presence. In 2008, SOCSOUTH conducted two trainings with 135 soldiers each, all from the 1st Special Forces Battalion. The Honduran press has reported that the 1st Battalion and 15th Battalion, both special-forces units, operate as one command, sharing the installations in the Rio Claro military base for training. SOCSOUTH and the U.S.Southern Command, SOUTHCOM, have also funded improvements and expansion of the Rio Claro base since September 2011.
One disturbing observation that resulted from our investigation is that conditions surrounding many of the killings involved techniques included in U.S. training. According to Honduran press, U.S. special forces train the Honduran Special Operations Forces of the 1st and 15th Battalion in insertion, parachuting, explosives, long-distance sharpshooting, intelligence, advanced marksmanship, urban operations, close combat, martial arts and offensive driving. Dozens of campesinos have died after high-speed pursuit in vehicles, either after crashing or being shot, in incidents that can only be described as offensive driving.
Campesinos have reported surviving long-distance sharpshooting assassination attempts, and many have been killed from shots fired from a significant distance. One man was found dead from unexplained internal injuries while it was rumored that the unit was being trained in mortal hand-to-hand combat, raising suspicions. At least one man was killed in a stealth raid assisted by a helicopter, in which an armed group wearing black uniforms with masks quickly and surreptitiously entered a farm in the night, assassinated a campesino, and left–an operation known in military terms as “insertion”.
The improvements to the Rio Claro military base began just weeks after Xatruch II, a military–police joint task force, arrived in the Aguan. Honduras sent a Xatruch II unit to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, and at least two of the commanding officers of the Xatruch II deployment in the Aguan participated in Iraq. There is significant evidence that the Xatruch II operation in the Aguan is the same unit that served in Iraq.
From Iraq to Aguan
But Xatruch II is not all that is moving from the Middle East to the Aguan–so is the war on terrorism. The conflict in the Aguan is an 18 year-old land dispute. Campesinos explain that agri-businessmen used violence and fraud to illegally separate them from the palm oil plantations they had labored to create and equip. In 1998 they initiated lawsuits demanding annulment of the title transfers, but ever since they have struggled to maintain legal representation as their lawyers were threatened or bribed into abandoning the cases. On September 22, 2012 they lost the only lawyer who had stuck it out when he was shot to death outside a church. Just three months before, he had won the annulment of 3 of the 28 disputed title transfers.
Honduran military, even the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Security, have consistently distorted the nature of the conflict, claiming there is a guerrilla group operating in the area, connected to drug traffickers. On Sept. 6, 2012, The Times of Israel ran a story citing only Israeli radio, claiming the Hezbollah had established a training camp in Nicaragua on the border with Honduras, a story that was then repeated in Latin American press. The Times of Israel then reported further on the story citing the Latin American press reports it had generated itself. The dangerous, unsubstantiated and opportunistic accusations of narco-terrorism levied against the campesino movement in the Aguan by the military fit neatly into the U.S. objective of expanding its military reach in the region.
Security forces in the Aguan explain that the mission of Xatruch II is to defend the land of the businessmen from the “criminal’ campesinos. However, broad evidence indicates that some of the businessmen in conflict with the campesinos are involved in drug trafficking in the region. Local residents have reported that the 15th Battalion and the Tocoa police have provided protection to the traffickers. The police define their mission as defending the property of Miguel Facusse, whose principal residence in the region was implicated in drug trafficking,according to a State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks.
The conflict in the Aguan is a longstanding land conflict, and it must be treated as such. The conflict can be resolved by duly addressing the land-rights claims. Militarization, supported by the U.S. government, will not resolve the underlying conflict and it clearly increases, rather than decreases, the bloodshed.
Only the courts can resolve the conflict, but the courts don’t function and have further collapsed since the June 2009 military coup.
There is a solution to the violence in the Aguan–the courts, not the military.
Crossposted at cipamericas.org
Annie Bird, a Central America & Latin America human rights activist. She is co-director for rightsaction.org & a writer for cipamericas.org’s Americas Program.
The National Security State Wins (Again) May 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in War.
Tags: 2012 election, imperialism, mic, militarism, military, military industrial complex, military spending, mitt romney, national security state, Obama presidency, permanent war, roger hollander, us empire, war, william astore
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Why the Real Victor in Campaign 2012 Won’t Be Obama or Romney
Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the media is already handicapping the presidential election big time, and the neck-and-neck opinion polls are pouring in. But whether President Obama gets his second term or Romney enters the Oval Office, there’s a third candidate no one’s paying much attention to, and that candidate is guaranteed to be the one clear winner of election 2012: the U.S. military and our ever-surging national security state.
The reasons are easy enough to explain. Despite his record as a “warrior-president,” despite the breathless “Obama got Osama” campaign boosterism, common inside-the-Beltway wisdom has it that the president has backed himself into a national security corner. He must continue to appear strong and uncompromising on defense or else he’ll get the usual Democrat-as-war-wimp label tattooed on his arm by the Republicans.
Similarly, to have a realistic chance of defeating him — so goes American political thinking — candidate Romney must be seen as even stronger and more uncompromising, a hawk among hawks. Whatever military spending Obama calls for, however much he caters to neo-conservative agendas, however often he confesses his undying love for and extols the virtues of our troops, Romney will surpass him with promises of even more military spending, an even more muscular and interventionist foreign policy, and an even deeper love of our troops.
Indeed, with respect to the national security complex, candidate Romney already comes across like Edward G. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco in the classic film Key Largo: he knows he wants one thing, and that thing is more. More ships for the Navy. More planes for the Air Force. More troops in general — perhaps 100,000 more. And much more spending on national defense.
Clearly, come November, whoever wins or loses, the national security state will be the true victor in the presidential sweepstakes.
Of course, the election cycle alone is hardly responsible for our national love of weaponry and war. Even in today’s straitened fiscal climate, with all the talk of government austerity, Congress feels obliged to trump an already generous president by adding yet more money for military appropriations. Ever since the attacks of 9/11, surging defense budgets, forever war, and fear-mongering have become omnipresent features of our national landscape, together with pro-military celebrations that elevate our warriors and warfighters to hero status. In fact, the uneasier Americans grow when it comes to the economy and signs of national decline, the more breathlessly we praise our military and its image of overwhelming power. Neither Obama nor Romney show any sign of challenging this celebratory global “lock and load” mentality.
To explain why, one must consider not only the pro-military positions of each candidate, but their vulnerabilities — real or perceived — on military issues. Mitt Romney is the easier to handicap. As a Mormon missionary in France and later as the beneficiary of a high draft lottery number, Romney avoided military service during the Vietnam War. Perhaps because he lacks military experience, he has already gone on record (during the Republican presidential debates) as deferring to military commanders on decisions such as whether we should bomb Iran. A President Romney, it seems, would be more implementer-in-chief than civilian commander-in-chief.
Romney’s métier at Bain Capital was competence in the limited sense of buying low and selling high, along with a certain calculated ruthlessness in dividing companies and discarding people to manufacture profit. These skills, such as they are, earn him little respect in military circles. Compare him to Harry Truman or Teddy Roosevelt, both take-charge leaders with solid military credentials. Rather than a Trumanesque “the buck stops here,” Romney is more about “make a buck here.” Rather than Teddy Roosevelt’s bloodied but unbowed “man in the arena,” Romney is more bloodless equity capitalist circling high above the fray in a fancy suit.
Consider as well Romney’s five telegenic sons. It’s hard to square Mitt’s professions of love for our military with his sons’ lack of interest in military service. Indeed, when asked about their lack of enthusiasm for joining the armed forces during the surge in Iraq in 2007, Mitt off-handedly replied that his sons were already performing an invaluable national service by helping him get elected.
An old American upper class sense of noblesse oblige, of sons of privilege like George H.W. Bush or John F. Kennedy volunteering for national service in wartime, has been dead for decades in our otherwise military-happy country. When it comes to sending American sons (and increasingly daughters) into harm’s way, for President Romney it’ll be another case of chickenhawk guts and working-class blood.
For election 2012, however, the main point is that the Romney family’s collective lack of service makes him vulnerable on national defense, a weakness that has already led Mitt and his campaign to overcompensate with ever more pro-military policy pronouncements supplemented with the usual bellicose rhetoric of all Republicans (Ron Paul excepted). As a result, President-elect Romney will ultimately find himself confined, cowed, and controlled by the national security complex — and he’ll have only himself (and Barack Obama) to blame.
Obama, by way of contrast, has already shown a passion for military force that in saner times would make him invulnerable to charges of being “weak” on defense. Fond of dressing up in military flight jackets and praising the troops to the rafters, Obama has substance to go with his style. He’s made some tough calls like sending SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden; using NATO airpower to take down Qaddafi in Libya; expanding special ops and drone warfare in Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, including the assassination of U.S. citizens without judicial process. America’s Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2009 has become a devotee of special forces, kill teams, and high-tech drones that challenge the very reality of national sovereignty. Surely such a man can’t be accused of being weak on defense.
The political reality, of course, is different. Despite his record, the Republican Party is forever at pains to portray Obama as suspect (that middle name Hussein!), divided in his loyalties (that Kenyan connection!), and not slavish enough in his devotion to “underdog” Israel. (Could he be a crypto-Muslim?)
The president and his campaign staff are no fools. Since any sign of “weakness” vis-à-vis Iran and similar enemies du jour or any expression of less than boundless admiration for our military will be exploited ruthlessly by Romney et al., Obama will continue to tack rightwards on military issues and national defense. As a result, once elected he, too, will be a prisoner of the Complex. In this process, the only surefire winner and all-time champ: once again, the national security state.
So what can we expect on the campaign trail this summer and fall? Certainly not prospective civilian commanders-in-chief confident in the vitally important role of restraining or even reversing the worst excesses of an imperial state. Rather, we’ll witness two men vying to be cheerleader-in-chief for continued U.S. imperial dominance achieved at nearly any price.
Election 2012 will be all about preserving the imperial status quo, only more so. Come January 2013, regardless of which man takes the oath of office, we’ll remain a country with a manic enthusiasm for the military. Rather than a president who urges us to abhor endless war, we’ll be led by a man intent on keeping us oblivious to the way we’re squandering our nation’s future in fruitless conflicts that ultimately compromise our core constitutional principles.
For all the suspense the media will gin up in the coming months, the ballots are already in and the real winner of election 2012 will be the national security state. Unless you’re a denizen of that special interest state, we know the loser, too. It’s you.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He welcomes reader comments at email@example.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Astore discusses how the two presidential candidates are sure to out-militarize each other in the coming election campaign, click here or download it to your iPod here.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 William J. Astore
Forced Military Testing in America’s Schools January 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, War.
Tags: arkansas schools, army recutiement, asvab, civil liberties, ecucation, high schools, militarization, military, military recruiting, military recruitment, pat elder, right to privacy, roger hollander
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The invasion of student privacy associated with military testing in U.S. high schools has been well documented by mainstream media sources, like USA Today and NPR Radio. The practice of mandatory testing, however, continues largely unnoticed.
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB is the military’s entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test is also used as a recruiting tool in 12,000 high schools across the country. The 3 hour test is used by military recruiting services to gain sensitive, personal information on more than 660,000 high school students across the country every year, the vast majority of whom are under the age of 18. Students typically are given the test at school without parental knowledge or consent. The school-based ASVAB Career Exploration Program is among the military’s most effective recruiting tools.
In roughly 11,000 high schools where the ASVAB is administered, students are strongly encouraged to take the test for its alleged value as a career exploration tool, but in more than 1,000 schools, according to information received from the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command through a Freedom of Information Act request, tens of thousands of students are required to take it. It is a particularly egregious violation of civil liberties that has been going on almost entirely unnoticed since the late 1960′s.
Federal laws strictly monitor the release of student information, but the military manages to circumvent these laws with the administration of the ASVAB. In fact, ASVAB test results are the only student information that leaves U.S. schools without the opportunity provided for parental consent.
Aside from managing to evade the constraints of federal law, the military may also be violating many state laws on student privacy when it administers the ASVAB in public high schools. Students taking the ASVAB are required to furnish their social security numbers for the tests to be processed, even though many state laws specifically forbid such information being released without parental consent. In addition, the ASVAB requires under-aged students to sign a privacy release statement, a practice that may also be prohibited by many state laws.
A typical school announcement reads, “All Juniors will report to the cafeteria on Monday at 8:10 a.m. to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Whether you’re planning on college, a technical school, or you’re just not sure yet, the ASVAB Career Exploration Program can provide you with important information about your skills, abilities and interests – and help put you on the right course for a satisfying career!” This announcement or one very similar to it greets students in more than a thousand high schools across the country. There’s no mention of the military or the primary purpose of the test, which is to find leads for recruiters.
Imagine you’re Captain Eric W. Johnson, United States Navy, Commander, United States Military Entrance Processing Command and you had the complete cooperation of the Arkansas Department of Education to recruit high school students into the U.S. military. The first step you might take is to require juniors in public high schools to take the ASVAB. ASVAB results are good for enlistment purposes for up to two years. The ASVAB offers a treasure trove of information on students and allows the state’s top recruiter to pre-screen the entire crop of incoming potential recruits. “Sit down, shut up, and take this test. That’s an order!”
142 Arkansas high schools forced 10,000 children to take this military test without parental consent in Arkansas alone last year. “We’ve always done it that way and no one has ever complained,” explained one school counselor.
The Army recruiter’s handbook calls for military recruiters to take ownership of schools and this is one way they’re doing it. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command ranks each high school based on how receptive it is to military recruiters. Schools are awarded extra points when they make the ASVAB mandatory. (See page 25 of: USAREC pub. 601-107)
Meanwhile, military recruiting regulations specifically prohibit that the test from being made mandatory.
“Voluntary aspect of the student ASVAB: School and student participation in the Student Testing Program is voluntary. DOD personnel are prohibited from suggesting to school officials or any other influential individual or group that the test be made mandatory. Schools will be encouraged to recommend most students participate in the ASVAB Career Exploration Program. If the school requires all students of a particular group or grade to test, the MEPS will support it.” (See Page 3-1 of USMEPCOM Reg. 601-4)
Is it entirely coincidental that a thousand schools require students to take the test or does the Department of Defense have regulations in place solely for public consumption that it has no intention of following?
In addition, the Pentagon is grossly under reporting the number of schools with mandatory testing. There are hundreds of schools with required testing that are not reported by the DoD. For instance, the information released by the DoD for the ’09-’10 school year shows there is no mandatory testing in Ohio. However, it is possible, using a simple Google search tool, in this case (“k12.oh.us” asvab “all juniors”) to uncover several dozen schools that require students to take the ASVAB that are not reported by the Pentagon.
Why can’t we get traction on this issue?
There is great reluctance in American society to stand up to the U.S. military, particularly concerning the way it runs a dozen programs in the nation’s schools. Calls for transparency are met with silence and indignation, a terrible lesson for American high school students.
Why body bags prompt support for war September 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Media, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, big muddy, body bags, david sirota, Iraq war, military, military industrial complex, pete seeger, roger hollander, sunk-cost effect, war, war casualties, war propaganda, warmongers
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Roger’s note: those of us who experienced the Vietnam slaughter remember the notorious episode where CBS, under pressure from Lyndon Johnson, refused to allow Pete Seeger to sing the anti-war song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on the notorious (ly wonderful) Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. “We were knee deep in The Big Muddy / But the Big Fool said to push on.”
Full lyrics are posted below the article.
Monday, Sep 19, 2011 14:01 ET
Research confirms the pathology of staying the course
“One of the things that’s very important … is to never allow our youngsters to die in vain. And I’ve made the pledge to their parents. Withdrawing from the battlefield of Iraq would be just that. And it’s not going to happen under my watch.” — George W. Bush, April 14, 2004
In this memorable quote — which was one of many similar statements –George W. Bush gave us probably history’s most explicit example of how the “sunk cost” argument suffuses today’s national security politics.
While logic suggests mounting casualties should be a reason to end wars, the “sunk cost” phenomenon posits that the more casualties a nation suffers during a war, the more that nation is psychologically committed to the war. The idea is that because we simply don’t want to face the possibility that our countrymen “died in vain,” our natural instinct is to not only push away evidence that they died for lies (WMD), misguided theories (the Vietnam “domino” effect) or petty personal vendettas (“this is the guy who tried to kill my dad!”), we also are prone to “stay the course” for that elusive victory that will supposedly make all the blood and pain and suffering worth it. As Sen. Barack Obama said in criticizing the Bush administration in 2007, the sunk-cost phenomenon basically says, “We’re doubling down; we’re going to keep on going … because now we’ve got a lot in the pot and we can’t afford to lose what we put in the pot.”
Behavioral economists have long hypothesized about this psychological pathology in many different parts of human interaction. In investing, it’s called “throwing good money after bad.” In casino gambling, it’s refusing to cut your losses, and instead trying to big-bet your way back to profitability. I could go on with examples, but you know what I’m talking about because you’ve seen it in your own life.
Until now, the “sunk-cost” impulse was seen as entirely reflexive — a natural human reaction hard-wired into our brains and therefore determinative of our politics, whether we like it or not. But this week, a social psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis published the results of a study that is “thought to be the first non-anecdotal demonstration of the ‘activation’ of the sunk-cost effect”–and how that activation can be entirely manufactured.
Here’s the crux of their findings:
Subjects were put into two groups; in one they were asked to solve three decisions, all related to sunk-cost effects; in the other, they solved three different problems, not related to sunk costs …
Those participants exposed to the sunk-cost scenarios unknowingly were being primed to think of the aversiveness of throwing away previous investments, what Lambert calls “the don’t-waste” goal.
In Phase II of the experiment, all subjects were assigned one of two short reading assignments: One assignment was about war casualties, the other about the weather. Next, all subjects took an attitude questionnaire of 25 generic questions about the particular war. Lambert and his group found that those subjects exposed to the don’t-waste goal who read the story about war casualties tended to be significantly more in favor of the war than those controls who weren’t primed the same way.
Considering this, we see that standard calls by politicians to “stay the course” lest we “allow our youngsters to die in vain” are less reflections of the country’s natural psyche than sophisticated efforts to artificially “prime” that psyche for an emotional lurch toward a desired pro-war policy position.
With the Obama administration now threatening to break its Iraq withdrawal promises, and with the Afghanistan war still going strong in the face of record casualties, this priming remains powerful. Though the current president (to his credit) isn’t explicitly referencing the “sunk-cost” effect in his rhetoric, that effect still defines our emotional reactions to yet more militarist status quo.
For conservative warmongers, that emotional reaction means remaining steadfastly behind these conflicts, painful consequences be damned. For liberals and independents naturally suspicious of the wars, it means opposing the conflicts in theory (as polls show the country does), but giving up the kind of intense protests and activism that marked those early war years before the costs and casualties skyrocketed — that is, before the huge costs were “sunk” into the endeavors.
The result is exactly the neoconservatives’ original desired effect — a kind of passive preference for “stay the course.” Indeed, we are now so programmed to see news of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan as reason to continue those wars — so fearful of “losing” our investment of blood and treasure — that we barely even discuss what “winning” actually means.
- David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at http://www.davidsirota.com. More: David Sirota
Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
Words & Music : Pete Seeger
TRO © 1967 Melody Trails, Inc. New York, NY
It was back in nineteen forty-two
I was a member of a good platoon
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That’s how it all begun.
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
‘Bout a mile above this place.
It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We’ll soon be on dry ground.”
We were — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim.”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie,”
The Captain said to him.
“All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I’ll lead on.”
We were — neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain’s helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, “Turn around men!
I’m in charge from now on.”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.
We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper
Than the place he’d once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.
Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!
Words and music by Pete Seeger (1967)
TRO (c) 1967 Melody Trails, Inc. New York, NY
War Resisters Inject Truth into Military Recruitment July 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Peace, War.
Tags: anti-war, conscientiousw objector, eleanor j. bader, honorable discharge, military, military recruiters, military recruiting, military recruitment, peace, peace activists, roger hollander, school recruiters, school recruitment, selective service, stop-loss, truth-in-recruiting, war, War Resisters
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The setting changes but the scene does not: Men and women in crisply pressed uniforms enter public high schools across the country and cajole the teenagers they meet into signing on the dotted line to serve Uncle Sam.
Thanks to Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, recruiters from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy have the same access to secondary school students as college recruiters or potential employers. This, in concert with mandatory Selective Service registration for all 18-year-old males and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery [ASVAB] exam that is given to nearly three-quarters of a million high school juniors and seniors each year, has prompted many domestic peace activists to organize opposition to the militarization of youth. They advocate “truth-in-recruiting,” arguing that lofty promises made at the time of enlistment — extensive travel, scholarships or an easy route to U.S. citizenship — often fail to materialize once service begins.
What’s more, these peace activists say that they are paying particular attention to female recruits, warning them of potential pitfalls: The risks associated with wartime service even in “non-combat” positions, as well as the too-common experience of sexual harassment and assault by unit supervisors and peers.
The War Resisters League, an 88-year-old national group with more than 25 chapters across the U.S., targets students and, when possible, tables at schools to provide little-known facts about the military: One in four soldiers gets a less than honorable discharge, making them ineligible for college money; nearly one-third of females seeking health care from the Veteran’s Administration report experiencing a rape or attempted rape while conscripted.
“Up until the economic recession began, the military had a hard time finding recruits,” says Kimber Heinz, National Organizing Director of the War Resisters League. “But now the military is not only meeting its quota, it’s a de facto jobs program and you have recruiters preying on students who can no longer afford college or find work.”
One of its brochures, Know Before You Go, offers this information for those thinking of signing up: “The military contract states, ‘Laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice. Such changes may affect pay, benefits, and responsibilities as a member of the Armed Forces regardless of the provisions of the enlistment document.’” In other words, beware: Even though a recruit has signed a contract, the terms can be modified at the military’s discretion.
“We let people know that if we’re at war a recruit can be stop-lossed and might end up on multiple tours,” Heinz continues. “The recruit has no control over this. We always remind people that the military is the only job where if the worker quits, he or she goes to jail.” The organization also provides data on what it means to be a conscientious objector and outlines the penalties for failing to register for Selective Service.
Other truth-in-recruiting messages are also hammered. For one, despite promises to the contrary, Heinz reports that skills learned in the military are rarely transferable to the civilian world. “We make it clear that many, many people come out of the military traumatized or disabled,” Heinz continues. “We ask people to think about what it means to be an occupier of someone else’s land and we try to get people to consider whether they’ll be able to live with killing someone or seeing someone killed.”
It’s a heavy message, and it is repeated by more than 75 local organizations throughout the 50 states.
Joanne Sheehan is an adult advisor to YouthPeace, a student-led social justice group at the Norwich Free Academy, a public, regional high school in eastern Connecticut. Since 1998 YouthPeace has raised issues including military recruitment and Islamophobia with the student body.
Students Can Opt-Out
For the past seven years, members have also coordinated an annual opt-out campaign to inform students that the law allows them to request that their contact information be withheld from recruiters. “Schools typically send student names, addresses, and phone numbers to the military in October, so we have about a month once school starts to publicize the opt-out provision,” Sheehan says. “A few years ago we pushed the superintendent to put information about opting-out in the first paragraph of a letter that is sent to parents at the beginning of the year. We want to be sure they understand that their children don’t need to provide data to recruiters, that it’s something they can opt-out of.”
In some schools recruiters have free rein in the hallways
The peace groups also broach a broader anti-militarist agenda, even in places like San Diego with a heavy military presence and 110,000 military employees. There, the school board recently voted to ban students enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps [J-ROTC] from taking in-school marksmanship classes. “Fifteen of the 18 high schools in San Diego have ROTC. One of them, Lincoln, was temporarily closed for rehabbing and when we saw the plan for the renovation, we saw that it included a firing range. We brought this to the community’s attention and formed the Education Not Arms Coalition,” says Rick Jahnkow, coordinator of Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, known as Project YANO.
The consensus, Jahnkow says, was to focus on ending gun classes rather than campaigning against ROTC more generally because group participants felt an anti-ROTC campaign would fail. Education Not Arms pointed to the pervasive gun violence already plaguing the Lincoln area and denounced planned cutbacks in Advanced Placement classes needed by college-bound pupils. The efforts paid off: The school board ended all in-school gun training.
Boosted by this victory, Project YANO and Education Not Arms next turned their attention to school-based recruiters. In late 2010 San Diego activists succeeded in restricting recruiters to two school visits per year, similar to policies in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland. As a result, recruiters must schedule specific times to meet with potential conscripts and cannot disrupt “normal school activities.”
“In some schools the recruiters eat lunch with the kids, hang out and chill in the parking lot, and have free rein in the hallways,” says Pat Elder of Maryland’s PeaceAction Montgomery. “In most places, what they get to do depends on the principal. I’ve seen schools where male recruiters are always around, playing one-on-one basketball with kids who don’t have fathers.”
This scenario led New York City’s Youth Activists-Youth Allies Network to monitor recruiters to ensure that they obey the regulations that circumscribe their access to individual students.
YA-YA Network staff — all but one of whom are between 15 and 19 — also lead workshops about U.S. foreign policy and the costs of war and militarism. “Several years ago I asked participants what their peers thought about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says YA-YA advisor Amy Wagner. “The wars were not very present for them. I talked about how during the Vietnam War when you turned on your TV you always heard the number of dead soldiers. They thought about this and concluded that facts were being hidden from them on purpose. They did a lot of research and the result was a short video now up on YouTube, called The War Will Not Be Televised.
Terms can be modified at the military’s discretion
The YA-YA Network is presently focused on making sure that schools abide by regulations that mandate that a school staff person be appointed to provide guidance on military recruitment in each high school. “We first want to investigate and see if this is being done,” Wagner says. “If not, why not. If it is, we want to know where these people are getting their info and who’s training them. We want to give students the information they are entitled to so that they fully understand their range of options.”
Indeed, it is this idea of options that propels organizing against militarism. Take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, a four-hour recruiting tool used in nearly 12,000 high schools nationwide. To date, Maryland is the only state to require schools to select a provision that stops student scores from being sent directly to recruiters.
“Look, if you take even moderate Democrats and sit them down and ask them who they think should give student data to the military — mom and dad or the Pentagon – they’ll all support parental decision making,” says Pat Elder of PeaceAction Montgomery.
They want students to understand that becoming a soldier is not necessarily the best way to show personal strength or valor. “A lot of people want to be tough and powerful, so they enlist,” says the War Resisters League’s Kimber Heinz. “They ultimately learn that enlisting is not a good way to test how strong they are.”
Tags: budget crisis, david morris, debt ceiling, debt limit, defense spending, Economic Crisis, federal deficit, government, government spending, government waste, military, military budget, military spending, Pentagon, pentagon budget, roger hollander, tea party budget, war costs, war spending
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Republicans ignore incompetence, bloat and corruption at the Pentagon
In all the talk about the federal deficit, why is the single largest culprit left out of the conversation? Why is the one part of government that best epitomizes everything conservatives say they hate about government—- waste, incompetence, and corruption—all but exempt from conservative criticism?
Of course, I’m talking about the Pentagon. Any serious battle plan to reduce the deficit must take on the Pentagon. In 2011 military spending accounted for more than 58 percent of all federal discretionary spending and even more if the interest on the federal debt that is related to military spending were added. In the last ten years we have spent more than $7.6 trillion on military and homeland security according to the National Priorities Project.
In the last decade military spending has soared from $300 billion to $700 billion.
When debt ceilings and deficits seem to be the only two items on Washington’s agenda, it is both revealing and tragic that both parties give a free pass to military spending. Representative Paul Ryan’s much discussed Tea Party budget accepted Obama’s proposal for a pathetic $78 billion reduction in military spending over 5 years, a recommendation that would only modestly slow the rate of growth of military spending.
Indeed, the Republican government battering ram appears to have stopped at the Pentagon door. This was evident early on. As soon as they took over the House of Representatives, Republicans changed the rules so that military spending does not have to be offset by reduced spending somewhere else, unlike any other kind of government spending. It is the only activity of government they believe does not have to be paid for. Which brings to mind a bit of wisdom from one of their heroes, Adam Smith. “Were the expense of war to be defrayed always by revenue raised within the year … wars would in general be more speedily concluded, and less wantonly undertaken.”
The Tea Party revolution has only strengthened the Republican Party’s resolve that the Pentagon’s budget is untouchable. An analysis by the Heritage Foundation of Republican votes on defense spending found that Tea Party freshmen were even more likely than their Republican elders to vote against cutting any part of the military budget.
What makes the hypocrisy even more revealing is that the Pentagon turns out to be the poster child for government waste and incompetence.
In 2009 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found “staggering” cost overruns of almost $300 billion in nearly 70 percent of the Pentagon’s 96 major weapons. What’s more, the programs were running, on average, 21 months behind schedule. And when they were completed, they provided less than they promised.
The Defense Logistics Agency had no use for parts worth more than half of the $13.7 billion in equipment stacked up in DOD warehouses in 2006 to 2008.
And these are only the tips of the military’s misspending iceberg. We really don’t know how much the Pentagon wastes because, believe it or not, there hasn’t been a complete audit of the Pentagon in more than 15 years.
In 1994, the Government Management Reform Act required the Inspector General of each federal agency to audit and publish the financial statements of their agency. The Department of Defense was the only agency that has been unable to comply. In fiscal 1998 the Department of Defense used $1.7 trillion of undocumentable adjustments to balance the books. In 2002 the situation was even worse. CBS News reported that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted, “we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.”
Imagine that a school district were to reveal that it didn’t know where it spent its money. Now imagine the Republican response. Perhaps, “Off with their desktops!”
How did Congress’ respond to DOD’s delinquency? It gave it absolution and allowed it to opt out of its legal requirement. But as a sop to outraged public opinion Congress required DOD to set a date when it would have its book sufficiently in order to be audited. Which the Pentagon dutiful did, and missed every one of the target dates. The latest is 2017 and DOD has already announced it will be unable to meet that deadline.
Adding insult to injury, last September, the GAO found that the new computer systems intended to improve the Pentagon’s financial oversight are themselves nearly 100 percent or $7 billion over budget and as much as 12 years behind schedule!
The Pentagon is not just incompetent. It is corrupt. In November 2009 the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), the federal watchdog responsible for auditing oversight of military contractors, raised the question of criminal wrongdoing when it found that the audits that did occur were riddled with serious breaches of auditor independence. One Pentagon auditor admitted he did not perform detailed tests because, “The contractor would not appreciate it.”
Why would the Pentagon allow its contractors to get away with fraud? To answer that question we need to understand the incestuous relationship between the Pentagon and its contractors that has been going on for years, and is getting worse. From 2004 to 2008, 80 percent of retiring three and four star officers went to work as consultants or defense industry executives. Thirty-four out of 39 three- and four-star generals and admirals who retired in 2007 are now working in defense industry roles — nearly 90 percent.
retired general working for defense
Generals are recruited for private sector jobs well before they retire. Once employed by the military contractor the general maintains a Pentagon advisory role.
“In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest. But this is the Pentagon where…such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life”, an in-depth investigation by the Boston Globe concluded.
U.S. military spending now exceeds the spending of all other countries combined. Knowledge military experts argue that we can cut at least $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget without changing its currently expressed mission. But a growing number believe that the mission itself is suspect. Economic competitors like India and China certainly approve of our willingness to undermine our economic competitiveness by diverting trillions of dollars into war and weapons production. Some argue that all this spending has made us more secure but all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Certainly our $2 trillion and counting military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan have won us few friends and multiplied our enemies.
Defense experts Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman, writing in the Washington Post offer another argument against unrestrained military spending.
“Countries feel threatened when rivals ramp up their defenses; this was true in the Cold War, and now it may happen with China. It’s how arms races are born. We spend more, inspiring competitors to do the same — thus inflating defense budgets without making anyone safer. For example, Gates observed in May that no other country has a single ship comparable to our 11 aircraft carriers. Based on the perceived threat that this fleet poses, the Chinese are pursuing an anti-ship ballistic missile program. U.S. military officials have decried this “carrier-killer’‘ effort, and in response we are diversifying our capabilities to strike China, including a new long-range bomber program, and modernizing our carrier fleet at a cost of about $10 billion per ship.”
For tens of millions of Americans real security comes not from fighting wars on foreign soil but from not having to worry losing their house or their job or their medical care. As Joshua Holland, columnist for Alternet points out 46 states faced combined budget shortfalls this year of $130 billion, leading them to fire tens of thousands of workers and cut off assistance to millions of families. Just the supplemental requests for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan this year were $170 billion.
What is perhaps most astonishing of all is that cutting the military budget is wildly popular. Even back in 1995, when military spending was only a fraction of its present size, a poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes reported that 42 percent of the US public feeling that defense spending is too high and a majority of Americans were convinced that defense spending “has weakened the US economy and given some allies an economic edge.”
This March Reuters released a new poll that found the majority of Americans support reducing defense spending.
The next time you hear Republicans insist they want to ferret out government waste and reduce spending and stamp out incompetence ask them why the one part of government that exemplifies everything they say is wrong with government is the one part of government they embrace most heartily.
Early Childhood Military Education? June 8, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Education, War.
Tags: ann pelo, citizenship, early childhood, education, militarism, military, military education, military recruits, mission: readiness, roger hollander, war
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Does our national security rely on top-quality early childhood education?
Yes, say the military leaders of Mission: Readiness, an organization led by retired military commanders that promotes investment in education, child health, and parenting support. In March, Mission: Readiness released national and state-by-state education briefs, declaring that “high-quality early education is not only important for the children it benefits but also critical to ensuring our military’s long-term readiness. . . . Investing in high-quality early education is a matter of national security.”
Actually, the generals are right, but for all the wrong reasons.
They see early childhood education as military readiness training. Mission: Readiness argues that investment in early childhood education for at-risk and low-income children will pay off in higher graduation rates and lower incarceration rates—expanding the pool of potential military recruits. “Recruitment and retention challenges could return if America does not do a better job now of producing more young men and women qualified for service,” says the mission statement on the organization’s website. “We must ensure America’s national security by supporting interventions that will prepare young people for a life of military service and productive citizenship.”
Illustration: Katherine Streeter
Who are the young people for whom these military leaders are supposedly advocating? Low-income, at-risk children—the pool of children from which the military has traditionally recruited. What sort of education do the generals want for these children? Skill-and-drill, standards-driven, assessment-burdened curriculum that prepares children for skill-and-drill basic training, for standards-driven military discipline, for test-based military promotion. The generals’ aim is to prepare low-income children to be soldiers, trained from their youngest years to follow directions and to comply with the strictures issued by the ranking authority. That’s not high-quality education; that’s utilitarian education designed to serve military and economic needs.
This approach to education may prepare young people for a life of military service, but it certainly does not prepare them for citizenship. The Mission: Readiness statement of purpose unwittingly exposes a central conundrum in the organization’s thinking: “The earliest months and years of life are a crucial time when we build the foundation of children’s character, how they relate to others and how they learn.”
Exactly. High-quality early childhood education teaches for citizenship, not for test taking and reductionist assessment. The goal is not compliance but creativity, critical thinking, and compassion. Children are invited to engage meaningful questions in collaboration with others, to embrace complexity, to strive for the well-being of others with generosity, to pay attention to issues of fairness, and to act with courage, conviction, and imagination. Top-flight early education fosters in children dispositions toward empathy, ecological consciousness, engaged inquiry, and collaboration. These are the dispositions of citizens.
Citizens care for their country and its security. They inhabit the commons and they act on behalf of the common good. They are emboldened by personal sovereignty and know themselves to be protagonists in the unfolding history of their country—not passive observers, not dull-minded consumers, not obedient followers of military or government direction, but patriots acting for the good of the commonwealth. Active citizens, thinking critically and compassionately, resist military action as the quick and easy answer to complex challenges. They point out the horrifying absurdity of the idea of “collateral damage.” They fight against imperialism and work for justice nationally and internationally.
This is the citizenship that our nation needs at this juncture in our evolution. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a gulf slicked with oil, pristine lands on the chopping block for drilling and mining, health care out of reach for nearly a third of our people, unions under siege by state governments and by corporations—our nation needs citizens concerned with national security, with the well-being of our nation. There is much work to be done, and it will take citizens, not soldiers, to do it.
So, yes, because high-quality early childhood education prepares children to be citizens, it is essential to national security. The investment should and must be a national priority.
Tags: afghanistant war, congress, dadt, gays in military, Iraq war, JOHN T. BENNETT, military, military budget, nuclear, nuclear war, nuclear weapons, roger hollander, start, war
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Roger’s Note: A single word: INSANE.
Roger PS: DEFENSE spending? I am old enough to remember when it was more accurately called the WAR DEPARTMENT. I am not joking, kiddies.
by John T. Bennett
The House Armed Services Committee early Thursday approved a spending measure that clears the Pentagon and Energy Department to spend nearly $700 billion next fiscal year.
The panel approved a baseline Pentagon spending level of $553 billion, matching the Obama administration’s request. It also authorized the Energy Department to spend $18 billion on nuclear weapons projects, and cleared the military to spend $118 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The $690 billion defense authorization measure is expected to hit the House floor the week of May 23, according to aides.
The marathon markup began Wednesday morning and stretched into the early morning hours of Thursday.
As one day became another, the committee approved an amendment aimed at delaying a repeal of the ban on openly gay military service members. Democrats threw out the so-called “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy last year during a lame-duck legislative session, against the wishes of most Republicans.
The provision approved by the panel would add the four service chiefs to the list of military leaders that must certify the military to official end the ban. The services are in the midst of training personnel on how they should behave in the post-“Don’t ask” era.
Experts see the amendment — which has brought the ire of gay groups — as a delaying tactic, with even those who supported it acknowledging the chiefs inevitably will sign on.
Panel Republicans pushed through language reiterating that the U.S. is at war with al Qaeda and the Taliban, with Democrats charging they are looking to use it as a tool in the policy debate over detainees.
The committee engaged in a sometimes-testy partisan debate over various amendments brought by Republicans that would put a number of stipulations on the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty the Obama administration hammered out last year with Russia. The Senate has ratified that pact, but House GOP members want to make sure this — and future — presidents live up to terms of the deal made to secure ratification.
To get GOP support in the Senate, President Obama agreed to spend billions to upgrade America’s existing nuclear arsenal.
The House Armed Services panel approved several amendments that would require presidential notification if specific aspects of the nation’s nuclear targeting strategy are changed and keep “forward-deployed nuclear forces … based in Europe.”
Another New START amendment would limit the executive branch’s ability to spend funds between 2011 and 2017 to retire any system covered by the U.S.-Russia treaty. Democrats charged the amendment was too broad and undefined, with several claiming it would “tie the hands” of Obama and future presidents.
It does, however, contain an out for the executive branch, stating such retirements can move forward if the secretaries of Energy and Defense “may jointly waive the limitation” in a written notification to Congress.
On Wednesday afternoon, the committee adopted a provision that would trigger a competition to build F-35 fighter engine if certain improvements are made to the primary power plant. The panel also killed an amendment to strip $380 million from the F-35 program by cutting the planned buy of the Marines’ B variant by two jets.
On nearly all major hardware programs, the committee’s bill includes the funding levels sought by the Obama administration.
One exception was a big-ticket missile program, however.
After a heated exchange between senior Democratic and Republican panel members, the committee agreed to propose adding $100 million to the Ground Based Midcourse Defense missile program. As a part of that debate, Republicans agreed to add the same amount to the bill for National Guard and Reserve equipment by taking $100 million from a troubled project to place an advanced sensor on a C-12 aircraft.
The debate got so intense that, at its conclusion, panel Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) advised his members to “calm down” as the committee prepared for a dinner break.
Judge declares U.S. military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy openly banning gay service members unconstitutional September 10, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, LGBT.
Tags: don't ask, gay, gay rights, gay service, military, phil willon, roger hollander
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A federal judge in Riverside declared the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional Thursday, saying the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates the 1st Amendment rights of lesbians and gay men.
U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the policy banning gays did not preserve military readiness, contrary to what many supporters have argued, saying evidence shows that the policy in fact had a “direct and deleterious effect’’ on the military.
Phillips said she would issue an injunction barring the government from enforcing the policy. However, the U.S. Department of Justice, which defended “don’t ask, don’t tell” during a two-week trial in Riverside, will have an opportunity to appeal that decision.
The ruling comes just over a month after a federal judge in San Francisco tossed out California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, providing back-to-back victories for gay rights advocates seeking policy changes in the courts that have eluded them in Congress and at the ballot box. The case was filed by the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest political organization for gays in the GOP, in 2004.
[Updated at 6:30 p.m.: "As an American, a veteran and an Army reserve officer, I am proud the court ruled that the arcane ‘don't ask, don't tell’ statute violates the Constitution,” said R.Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans & Liberty Education Fund. “Today, the ruling is not just a win for Log Cabin Republican service members, but all American service members."]
The ruling is expected to intensify political pressure in Washington to act on legislation to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which remains stalled in the Senate despite support from President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership.
President Obama has called the ban a threat to national security, and the U.S. House in May passed legislation to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” if an ongoing Pentagon study determines the military can adapt to the change without harming defense readiness.
Despite Obama’s criticism of the policy, the Justice Department vigorously defended “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ and even tried to undercut the case with a technical legal challenge over whether the named plaintiffs were dues-paying members of the organization that filed the lawsuit: the Log Cabin Republicans.
– Phil Willon in Riverside County
‘They Kill Alex’ September 6, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Iraq and Afghanistan, Latin America, Peace, War.
Tags: ales arredondo, anti-war, carlos arredondo, chris hedges, immigrants, Iraq war, latinos, military, military recruiters, military recruiting, peace, roger hollander, veterans for peace, war
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by Chris Hedges
Carlos Arredondo, a native Costa Rican, stands in a parking lot of a Holiday Inn in Portland, Maine, next to his green Nissan pickup truck. The truck, its tailgate folded down, carries a flag-draped coffin and is adorned with pictures of his son, Lance Cpl. Alexander S. Arredondo, 20, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2004. The truck and a trailer he pulls with it have become a mobile shrine to his boy. He drives around the country, with the aid of donations, evoking a mixture of sympathy and hostility. There are white crosses with the names of other boys killed in the war. Combat boots are nailed to the side of the display. There is a wheelchair, covered in colored ribbons, fixed to the roof of the cab. There is Alex’s military uniform and boots, poster-size pictures of the young Marine shown on the streets of Najaf, in his formal Marine portrait, and then lying, his hands folded in white gloves, in his coffin. A metal sign on the back of the truck bears a gold star and reads: “USMC L/CPL ALEXANDER S. ARREDONDO.”
“This is what happens every week to some family in America,” says Carlos. “This is what war does. And this is the grief and pain the government does not want people to see.”
Alex, from a working-class immigrant family, was lured into the military a month before Sept. 11, 2001. The Marine recruiters made the usual appeals to patriotism, promised that he would be trained for a career, go to college and become a man. They included a $10,000 sign-on bonus. Alex was in the Marine units that invaded Iraq. His father, chained to the news reports, listening to the radio and two televisions at the same time, was increasingly distraught. “I hear nothing about my son for days and days,” he says. “It was too much, too much, too much for parents.”
Alex, in August 2004, was back in Iraq for a second tour. In one of his last phone calls, Alex told him: “Dad, I call you because, to say, you know, we’ve been fighting for many, many days already, and I want to tell you that I love you and I don’t want you to forget me.” His father answered: “Of course I love you, and I don’t want-I never forget you.” The last message the family received was an e-mail around that time which read: “Watch the news online. Check the news, and tell everyone that I love them.”
Twenty days later, on Aug. 25, a U.S. government van pulled up in front of Carlos’ home in Hollywood, Fla. It was Carlos’ 44th birthday and he was expecting a birthday call from Alex. “I saw the van and thought maybe Alex had come home to surprise me for my birthday or maybe they were coming to recruit my other son, Brian,” he says. Three Marine officers climbed out of the van. One asked, “Are you Carlos Arredondo?” He answered “yes.”
“I’m sorry, we’re here to notify you about the death of Lance Cpl. Arredondo,” one of the officers told him. Alex was the 968th soldier or Marine to be killed in the Iraq war.
“I tried to process this in my head,” Carlos says. “I never hear that. I remember how my body felt. I got a rush of blood to my body. I felt like it’s the worst thing in my life. It is my worst fear. I could not believe what they were telling me.”
Carlos turned and ran into the house to find his mother, who was in the kitchen making him a birthday cake. “I cried, ‘Mama! Mama! They are telling me Alex got killed! Alex got killed! They kill Alex! They kill Alex! They kill Alex!” His mother crumbled in grief. Carlos went to the large picture of his son in the living room and held it. Carlos asked the Marines to leave several times over the next 20 minutes, but the Marines refused, saying they had to wait for his wife. “I did this because I was in denial. I think if they leave none of this will happen.” Crazed and distraught with grief, the father went into his garage and took out five gallons of gasoline and a propane torch. He walked past the three Marines in their dress blues and began to smash the windows of the government van with a hammer.
“I went into the van,” he says. “I poured gasoline on the seats. I pour gasoline on the floor and in the gas tank. I was, like, looking for my son. I was screaming and yelling for him. I remember that one day he left in a van and now he’s not there. I destroy everything. The pain I feel is the pain of what I learned from war. I was wearing only socks and no shoes. I was wearing shorts. The fumes were powerful and I could not breathe no more, even though I broke the windows.”
As Carlos stepped out of the van, he ignited the propane torch inside the vehicle. It started a fire that “threw me from the driver’s seat backwards onto the ground.” His clothes caught fire. It felt “like thousands of needles stabbing into my body.” He ran across the street and fell onto the grass. His mother followed him and pulled off his shirt and socks, which were on fire, as he screamed “Mama! Mama! My feet are burning! My feet are burning!” The Marines dragged him away and he remembers one of them saying, “The van is going to blow! The van is going to blow!” The van erupted in a fireball and the rush of hot air, he says, swept over him. The Marines called a fire truck and an ambulance. Carlos sustained second- and third-degree burns over 26 percent of his body. As I talk to him in the Portland parking lot he shows me the burn scars on his legs. The government chose not to prosecute him.
“I wake up in the hospital two days later and I was tied with tubes in my mouth,” he says. “When they take the tubes out I say, ‘I want to be with my son. I want to be with my son.’ Somebody was telling me my son had died. I get very emotional. I kept saying ‘I want to be with my son’ and they think I want to commit suicide.”
He had no health insurance. His medical bills soon climbed to $55,000. On Sept. 2, 2004, Carlos, transported in a stretcher, attended his son’s wake at the Rodgers Funeral Home in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He lifted himself, with the help of those around him, from his stretcher, and when he reached his son’s open casket he kissed his child. “I held his head and when I put my hands in the back of his head I felt the huge hole where the sniper bullet had come out,” he says. “I climbed into the casket. I lay on top of my son. I apologized to him because I did not do enough to avoid this.”
Arredondo began to collect items that memorialized his son’s life. He tacked them to his truck. A funeral home in Boston donated a casket to the display. He began to attend anti-war events, at times flying the American flag upside down to signal distress. He has taken his shrine to the Mall in Washington, D.C., and Times Square in New York City. He has traveled throughout the country presenting to the public a visual expression of death and grief. He has placed some of his son’s favorite childhood toys and belongings in the coffin, including a soccer ball, a pair of shoes, a baseball and a Winnie the Pooh. The power of his images, which force onlookers to confront the fact that the essence of war is death, has angered some who prefer to keep war sanitized and wrapped in the patriotic slogans of glory, honor and heroism. Three years ago vandals defaced his son’s gravestone.
“I don’t speak,” he says. “I show people war. I show them the caskets they are not allowed to see. If people don’t see what war does they don’t feel it. If they don’t feel it they don’t care.”
Military recruiters, who often have offices in high schools, prey on young men like Alex, who was first approached when he was 16. They cater to their insecurities, their dreams and their economic deprivation. They promise them what the larger society denies them. Those of Latino descent and from divorced families, as Alex was, are especially vulnerable. Alex’s brother Brian was approached by the military, which suggested that if he enlisted he could receive $60,000 in signing bonuses and more than $27,000 in payments for higher education. The proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, is designed to give undocumented young people a chance at citizenship provided they attend college-not usually an option for poor, often poorly educated and undocumented Latino youths who are prohibited from receiving Pell grants-for at least two years, or enlist and serve in the military. The military helped author the pending act and is lobbying for it. Twelve percent of Army enlistees are Hispanic, and this percentage is expected to double by 2020 if the current rate of recruitment continues. And once they are recruited, these young men and women are trained to be killers, sent to wars that should never be fought and returned back to their families often traumatized and broken and sometimes dead.
Alex told Carlos in their last conversation there was heavy fighting in Najaf. Alex usually asked his father not to “forget” him, but now, increasingly in the final days of his life, another word was taking the place of forget. It was forgive. He felt his father should not forgive him for what he was doing in Iraq. He told his father, “Dad, I hope you are proud of what I’m doing. Don’t forgive me, Dad.” The sentence bewildered his father. “Oh my God, how can I forgive you? … I love you, you’re my son, very proud, you’re my son.”
“I thought, when he died, my God, he has killed somebody,” Carlos says quietly as he readied for an anti-war march organized by Veterans for Peace. “He feels guilty. If he returned home his mind would be destroyed. His heart would be torn apart. It is not normal to kill. How can they do this? How can they take our children?”
© 2010 TruthDig.com
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.