Roger’s note: Last week a nine year old girl from New Jersey was on vacation with her family in Arizona where she was taken to a gun range (the Last Stop shooting range) by her parents where she was given a Uzi sub-machine gun to fire at a target. Something went wrong, probably with the weapon’s recoil, and she occidentally shot and killed the instructor at her side. Unlike the article below, I am not making this up.
AUGUST 28, 2014
BY ANDY BOROWITZ
CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/GETTY
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Across the United States on Wednesday, a heated national debate began on the extremely complex issue of children firing military weapons.
“Every now and then, the nation debates an issue that is so complicated and tricky it defies easy answers,” says pollster Davis Logsdon. “Letting small children fire automatic weapons is such an issue.”
Logsdon says that the thorny controversy is reminiscent of another ongoing national debate, about whether it is a good idea to load a car with dynamite and drive it into a tree.
“Many Americans think it’s a terrible idea, but others believe that with the correct supervision, it’s perfectly fine,” he says. “Who’s to say who’s right?”
Similar, he says, is the national debate about using a flamethrower indoors. “There has been a long and contentious national conversation about this,” he says. “It’s another tough one.”
Much like the long-running national debates about jumping off a roof, licking electrical sockets, and gargling with thumbtacks, the vexing question of whether children should fire military weapons does not appear headed for a swift resolution.
“Like the issue of whether you should sneak up behind a bear and jab it with a hot poker, this won’t be settled any time soon,” he says.
Roger’s note: the United States was founded on the genocide of the First Nations peoples and much of its enormous wealth was derived from the forced labor of African slaves. Racism is as American as apple pie. This is not leftist ranting, it is historical fact. Sadly, under the “leadership” of the country’s first African American president, the situation is only getting worse. Obama’s immigration extradition policies, his orientation towards Wall Street and away from Main Street, the federal government’s militarization of urban police forces — all this contributes to the discrimination and impoverization mostly of peoples of color. The Republican Party may be more overtly racist in its ideological bias, but it is a Democratic president that is implementing racist policies. God help America.
Reuters | By Stephanie Nebehay
Posted: 08/30/2014 8:31 am EDT Updated: 08/30/2014 9:59 am EDT
* Panel issues recommendations after review of U.S. record
* Says killing of Michael Brown “not an isolated event”
* Decries racial bias of police, pervasive discrimination
* ACLU calls for addressing racial inequality in America
GENEVA, Aug 29 (Reuters) – The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.
“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.
Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9, triggering violent protests that rocked Ferguson – a St. Louis suburb – and shone a global spotlight on the state of race relations in America.
“The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown,” said Amir, an expert from Algeria.
“This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”
The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system.
U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”.
Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.
Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson when shot. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.
“STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS
In its conclusions issued on Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense”.
Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.
The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States.
“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police,” it said, urging investigations.
The experts called for addressing obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous peoples to exercise their right to vote effectively. This was due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies, it said.
Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.
“When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad,” he said.
Anti-torture demonstrators performed a mock waterboarding outside the White House during the Bush years to protest CIA use of the technique. (Photo: flickr)
The Washington Postreports on Thursday that at least four individuals taken captive by the Islamic State were tortured and that the group—also known as ISIS—appeared to be modeling the CIA’s use of torture as it employed waterboarding as one of the painful techniques they used.
Worldwide condemnation followed revelations that in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration approved the CIA to torture suspected terrorists during interoggations conducted at secret ‘Black Sites’ – or clandestine holding facilities.
Among those subjected to the brutal treatment by ISIS, according to sources quoted in thePost‘s reporting, was American journalist James Foley who was subsequently executed by the group.
“They knew exactly how it was done,” said a person with direct knowledge of what happened to the hostages. The person, who would only discuss the hostages’ experience on condition of anonymity, said the captives, including Foley, were held in Raqqah, a city in the north-central region of Syria.
James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State last week in apparent retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq where the militant group has seized large swaths of territory. The group, which also controls parts of Syria, has threatened to kill another American, journalist Steven J. Sotloff. He was seen at the end of a video showing Foley’s killing that was released by the militant group. Two other Americans are also held by Islamic State.
A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding.
“Yes, that is part of the information that bubbled up and Jim was subject to it,” the person said. “I believe he suffered a lot of physical abuse.”
Foley’s mother, Diane, said in a brief phone interview Thursday that she didn’t know her son had been waterboarded.
The FBI, which is investigating Foley’s death and the abduction of Americans in Syria, declined to comment. The CIA had no official comment.
As the Huffington Post‘s Jack Mirkinson points out:
Interestingly, while the Post has, like most mainstream outlets, typically been reluctant to call methods such as waterboarding “torture” when it was practiced by Americans, the paper had no apparent problem calling what ISIS did to Foley “torture.”
“A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding,” the Post wrote.
Still, the paper has not followed the New York Times in vowing to use the word “torture” more firmly in its articles.
One unnamed “U.S. official” quoted by the Post scoffed at the idea that there could be any comparison between the torture conducted by ISIS and the torture conducted by U.S. military or intelligence agents.
“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” the unnamed official said. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”
But early reactions on Twitter were not niave to the implications of the news relative to the consistent and continued defense of torture by U.S. officials—and members of the U.S. media—when it was conducted by the CIA against their perceived enemies:
Abdul Hakim Belhadj, one of the 10 signatories to the rendition letter. (Photo: Libya Herald)
As officials continue to delay the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on post-9/11 CIA interrogation techniques, 10 victims of CIA rendition and torture have signed an open letter (pdf) to President Obama asking him to declassify the heavily redacted report.
The 500-page summary of the report, which includes details about secret overseas prisons, waterboarding of suspected enemy combatants, and rendition — the practice of sending a terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a foreign country — was so extensively redacted as to render it “impossible to understand,” as one critic put it. The report was expected to be released in August, but has been delayed and is currently thought to be sitting on President Obama’s desk while negotiations over declassification continue.
The signatories to the letter want these blackouts removed, in order to force a public reckoning with and official acknowledgement of their experiences.
“Despite living thousands of miles apart and leading different lives today, a shared experience unites us: the CIA abducted each of us in the past and flew us to secret prisons for torture,” reads the letter, which was coordinated by the international human rights group Reprieve. “Some of us were kidnapped with our pregnant wives or children. All of us were later released without charge, redress or apology from the US. We now want the American public to read that story, in full, and without redactions… You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.”
The letter, which details prolonged confinement in small boxes and dark spaces, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and “bombardment with noise and weapons,” continues:
Torture, we thought, was something only dictators did. Colonel Gaddafi’s thugs were infamous for maiming and killing political opponents in Libya. In Egypt activists often disappeared. Moroccan interrogation techniques include “bottle torture,” where bottles are used to violate prisoners. We understood the Syrian regime’s brutality well before it murdered thousands of its citizens.
Before our abductions, though, none of us imagined the torturers standing over us one day would come from the United States.
Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.
These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.
In advance of an August 29 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing deadline, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has reportedly asked for an additional one-month delay due to “ongoing negotiations” between the Committee, the Obama administration, and the CIA regarding declassification.
Earlier this week, the ACLU filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding the CIA release all three reports about “its post-9/11 program of rendition, secret detention, and torture of detainees” — the 6,000-page Senate Select Committee Intelligence Committee report; the CIA’s report in response, defending the agency’s actions; and a report commissioned by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, which is reportedly consistent with the Committee’s investigative report findings, but contradicts the CIA’s response to the SSCI.
While Feinstein and the CIA have reached the nadir of their relationship — the CIA intends to attack her report’s credibility — there are concerns that the CIA has weighed the scale in favor of secrecy. Obama allowed it to lead the declassification review, despite its interest in keeping the report secret. McClatchy reported this week that the main declassification interlocutor with Feinstein, top intelligence lawyer Robert Litt, represented CIA clients in private practice in undisclosed lawsuits.
“We believe the public should know the full story of what took place in the CIA’s secret prisons and that all of these documents – the Senate report, the CIA response, and the Panetta review should be released to the public,” said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, which filed the freedom-of-information case.
“It’s disappointing that the government is seeking further delay, but, given Senator Feinstein’s assurances, we’re hopeful that all of the documents will be released with very limited redactions in September.”
History turns: Even as Israel’s onslaught in Gaza continues – in the latest insanity,obliterating an apartment building housing 44 families to punish one alleged combatant – over 300 Holocaust survivors and descendants have written a stunning condemnation of Jewish attempts to “justify the unjustifiable” and blasted “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.” Outraged by Elie Wiesel’s recent “abuse of our history” in an ad wherein he supported the assault on Gaza and compared Hamas to the Nazis, the survivors insist “nothing can justify” the murder of over 2,000 Palestinians, many of them children. Like a growing number of other Jews turning against Israel, they condemn both U.S. funding of Israel and Western silence, and call for an end to the siege and blockade of Gaza as well as a total economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. And they use the word from their own singular experience: “Genocide begins with the silence of the world.” Extraordinary.
“We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people…’Never again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!”
Roger’s note: I find myself using this phrase too often nowadays: This is truly frightening. I read that residents of Gaza have sent messages to the protesters in Ferguson with advice on how to deal with tear gas. The chickens have truly come home to roost.
Army fatigues, armored vehicles, tear gas, AR-15s — it’s the war-ready imagery not just of Gaza and Iraq but Ferguson, Missouri, a town of 21,000 with zero murders on the books in 2014. Unless, of course, you count 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The response to protests against the teen’s death at the hands of police turned even more authoritarian when darkness fell on Wednesday, asjournalist and citizens alike were targeted with undue force. In night vision, tanks rolling through smoky suburban streets recalled an occupation. But however misguided the show of brute force against the mostly peaceful demonstrators was, it’s a chest-out, guns-up posturing small-time police departments across the country have been preparing for.
What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind a municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.
Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.
The trend only increased as a response to terror after September 11, and more so as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. From Adam Serwer at MSNBC:
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program, first enacted in 1996 at the height of the so-called War on Drugs. The Department of Justice, according to the ACLU, “plays an important role in the militarization of the police” through its grant programs. It’s not that individual police officers are bad people – it’s that shifts in the American culture of policing encourages officers to ”think of the people they serve as enemies.” […]
Training materials obtained by the ACLU encourage departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” It is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.
Ferguson specifically was a part of such a program, USA Today reports, having “received advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment between 2012 and 2014”:
Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, confirms that the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033 that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the United States. The materials range from small items, such as pistols and automatic rifles, to heavy armored vehicles such as the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement,” the agency’s website states.
Between 2011 and 2012, sixty-three agencies polled by the A.C.L.U. reported that they had received “a total of 15,054 items of battle uniforms or personal protective equipment”; some five hundred agencies had received “vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs.” In many instances, the receipt of these military-grade weapons is contingent on their use within a calendar year.
How necessary is any of this? Well, in February, local Sergeant Matthew Pleviak of St. Louis County’s Tactical Operations Unit SWAT team told theRiver Front Times, “If you go to any subdivison, there’s grass and trees and bushes.”
But writing for the Daily Beast, a military veteran argued, “The net effect is a Ferguson police department in name only. In terms of its equipment, organization, and deployment methods, the Ferguson force looks more like an infantry or military police company in Iraq … this military gear transforms the police department into an occupying army, and enables the police to act with such speed and violence so as to destroy any meaningful right to peaceably assemble or address grievances towards government.”
Balkey put it this way in a Reddit AMA before Ferguson: “I think that as bad as the weapons and tactics are, the uniforms might be more pernicious, at least in terms of fostering a militaristic mindset.”
“When you dress like a soldier,” he wrote, “you’re predisposing yourself to start thinking like one. And of course, there’s really no strategic value, unless you’re raiding a forest.”
Sixty-nine years ago last week, a slender woman named Tomiko Shoji was struck and sent aloft by a bright white light. She’d just arrived at her secretarial job, at a tobacco factory, and was standing by the door when the flash occurred; the light’s source had a nickname, Little Boy, but it meant nothing to her at the time. She flew backward under the crushing force of the office door, passed out, and awoke with shards of glass in her head and an expanse of bodies around her—some dead, some alive but dazed, and many more, she soon found, floating “like charcoal” in nearby rivers. The nineteen-year-old climbed up and out of the shell of her younger self; she had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nearly seven decades later, Keni Sabath, Shoji’s youngest granddaughter, started to wonder: Had the bombing’s aftermath reshaped not just the psyche of her bachan (grandmother) but also, in ways both culturally and historically particular, her own?
In recent years, a public-health hypothesis has emerged that one of the world’s most poorly understood pandemics isn’t a conventional virus—like H1N1, say, or some hemorrhagic fever. This hypothesis suggests that untended wartime trauma can move vertically and horizontally through individuals and families, morphing across years, decades, or even centuries. Sabath began considering the prospect as early as high school, after certain overpowering symptoms emerged on a family visit to Hiroshima when she was six. It was Sabath who had arranged for me to visit her bachan at her aunt’s home in Hilliard, Ohio, where Shoji agreed to share her first full account of the bombing and the family mysteries that followed.
* * *
On my way to Hilliard, I carried my copy of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” (My 1989 edition bears the cover endorsement “Everyone able to read should read it,” and I agree.) Its text first appeared as an entire issue of this magazine, on the one-year anniversary of the bombing, and followed the fates of six civilians in the aftermath. Even now, on a more distant anniversary, Hersey’s granular rendering gives an urgency to these stories: of a young clerk, Shoji’s age, who found herself crushed beneath a pile of books; of a Methodist pastor who charged his way back into the city to help, passing victims whose eyebrows had been singed off and women with the flower patterns of kimonos burned into their skin.
As I entered Shoji’s home, on a quiet cul-de-sac, she swept my hand into hers and pressed her cool forehead against mine by way of welcome. Her eldest daughter, Minori, gave me a pair of slippers to wear inside; as the three of us shuffled into the kitchen, where fresh berries and tea cakes awaited, we paused to examine photographs of the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, the same pastor who weaves his way through Hersey’s narrative, and who also, apparently, stood at the center of Shoji’s. She first came across him preaching in an open-air bazaar in Hiroshima not long after the bombing; he gave her a piece of paper with information about his church, and she soon converted to Christianity. (He later baptized her grandson, Isao, who served as my translator well into the early evening.) Some of the first words Shoji spoke to me in Japanese were about the Reverend: “He would say, ‘Tomiko, why don’t we go all over the world together and tell them of our experiences with the bomb?’ ”
Tanimoto made a second career out of his own suggestion; on the fortieth anniversary of the bombing, Hersey wrote a follow-up story for the magazine, “Hiroshima: The Aftermath,” in which he described the pastor’s extensive U.S. speaking tour to promote peace. But Shoji wasn’t ready to speak freely at the time. This past July, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped Little Boy, died in Stone Mountain, Georgia, having given many interviews. By then, Shoji had made up her mind that, in her eighty-eighth year, she would share her own account of what happened on the other side of the bomb. So we began right there, with the flash.
* * *
“Radiation! Heat! The wind from the bomb!” When Shoji began to describe her recollections from August 6, 1945, she took on a staccato pattern of speech, gesticulating rapidly. A tiny woman with pixie-gray hair and a sweet, flushed face, she slapped her small hands together and pummelled her head with pinched fingers, as if to imitate flying debris from the blast. At one point, she pretended to fling burned skin across the room like zucchini peels. Then she closed her eyes and went into a deep repose, resurfacing with a sudden phrase: “I’m scared to meet people,” she said, speaking in the present tense of her teen-age self, who might also be herself at eighty-eight. “Something could just blow up. I’ve seen it before.”
On the morning of the bombing—it was 8:15, the start of the workday—Shoji recalls briefly losing consciousness at the Bureau of Tobacco. “When I got up, I ran down to the first floor, down to the bomb shelter,” she said. “All over was smoke; the entire city was covered with smoke. I saw people coming across the bridge just completely black—covered by blood, coming towards us. … The whole city was a sea of fire. And then, at night, it rained black rain.”
Collecting herself, she began walking with colleagues across the city’s many bridges, toward the sea. She caught a train in Hiroshima’s west hoping to find her sister, to no avail; en route were whole trolley cars that had been blown off their tracks, filled with singed corpses. After spending the night, she returned home to find a note from the same sister, which read, “You can find me at the school.” The two stayed in the school turned shelter for some time thereafter, living in a true dystopia. “There were tens of thousands of flies from the dead bodies,” she recalled. “Our greetings to each other became: are you having diarrhea?”
For all those who perished in the bombing, many more survived, day by day. Only later would some, like Shoji, come to discover that the most devastating aftereffects were like ghosts: coming and going on a whim, wreaking forms of havoc often incomprehensible to outsiders and, sometimes, even to those who suffered it.
* * *
I’d always assumed, in ignorance, that to survive the atomic bomb—to be ahibakusha, or “explosion-affected person”—was to have conferred upon you a certain esteem or deference, not unlike that afforded to the bearer of a Purple Heart. Shoji’s family wasted no time correcting me. To be a hibakusha, they explained, was not an honorific but a source of shame, a secret to be closely held. Even grandchildren have often feared telling romantic partners of their grandparents’ experience, worried that their genetic material would be perceived as spoiled goods.
Eventually, Shoji’s family planned for her to enter an arranged marriage with a prominent policeman in Taiwan, where she relocated in her early twenties. They kept her hibakusha status hushed, and refused to allow the two to talk before the ceremony, so as to better seal the secret. “My hands were shaking, holding my bouquet,” Shoji recalled. When her husband learned the news afterward, he spiralled into a rage that never lifted. For the rest of the marriage, Shoji’s daughter Minori said, “He felt he’d been cheated.”
The next several decades brought a parade of physical ailments that were easily traceable to the bomb: Shoji’s eyes and ears gave up early; her insides felt perpetually cold; her teeth fell out, requiring dentures in her forties. But perhaps most debilitating were the psychological symptoms that she didn’t think she could attribute to the radiation. “For thirty or forty years, I was so afraid of thunder and lightening,” she told me, as one of many examples. “It would just crush me. I just lost control.” Raising four daughters was a challenge of another scale. “Nobody understood me; I was like a beggar,” she said, recalling that when her children were young she faced almost daily bouts of overwhelming panic. At night, in dreams, she shouted, “The Earth—the Earth is going to fall!” “At the time, I didn’t know what was affecting me so badly,” Shoji said. “I couldn’t talk about it. Even before I opened my mouth, I would collapse with fear.”
Minori chimed in, gently stroking her mother’s shoulder: “When we would go into her bedroom in the morning, we would see her get so angry—she would throw things. When we were young, I never saw her laugh—she was quiet, and weak.” Back then, neither Shoji nor her children spoke openly about this behavior as tied to the bomb. Remarkably, Shoji says that the idea didn’t come easily to her. She was unfamiliar with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or its classic presentation (nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance); these traits seemed unrelated to her experience. “Every year I have these crazy episodes—my family is so good to me, but I have these outbursts, these moments when I lose control,” she said. Years ago, she insists, it all seemed completely inexplicable.
Still, somewhere within her, she began to trace a clear line between her inner state and the events of her nineteenth year. “After I go married, the family would yell at me, and even when I’m beaten, I can’t respond, and I don’t know why. But deep inside, I remember, oh, that’s what it is: the bomb, the aftereffects of the bomb. It’s worse than the day of the bomb.”
* * *
Shoji’s granddaughter Keni Sabath grew up in Hawaii and Texas, the child of a New Jersey-born Navy JAG officer and a fashionable Taiwan-born language tutor. Like her older sister Zena, Keni often spent her days with her bachan, who lived in their home for years before joining Keni’s aunt Minori in Ohio. In the summers, the family would travel back to Japan. “I first became aware of my grandmother’s experience in a very disturbing way, when I was six years old,” Keni Sabath told me after my Ohio visit. “I went to the Peace Park in Hiroshima with my grandmother and my mom. We walked by the river and my mom would translate, ‘This river here was turned into a blood river, and people would jump into it and their skin would burn off.’ ” The family proceeded to the local memorial museum, where life-size wax statues depicted local children fleeing the bombing site, their skin melting and their clothing singed. “The children were my height!” Sabath said. “It was so hard for me to reconcile that hell with the current city. I couldn’t understand: How were people over it?”
Sabath’s crying became incessant thereafter. She couldn’t sleep; each time she saw a plane in the air, she panicked, just as her grandmother continued to do. “My mother ended up taking me to a witch doctor,” she told me. “They thought I was haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima” (called yurie, or faint spirits). For years, the yurie resurfaced in Sabath each summer, making her anxious, watchful, her eyes skyward.
In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts like Shoji’s and Sabath’s through the framework of “trans-generational trauma,” which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of “secondary trauma” in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms “similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.” More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, “Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.” Instead, he proposed, “Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.”
But even metaphors of trauma as contagion feel inadequate, or even potentially counterproductive; for one thing, they can get mixed up with questions of shame and stigma, seeming to assign blame or stir up anxieties about contamination where the antidote to both is needed. And stigma, too, gets internalized. As a small child, Sabath said, when she began to fear a plane above, “I would think, how could I let the plane know that I was American?” She would beg her father to come along to Japan during the summers, thinking, “My white military dad—a Navy JAG officer—he signalled my identity, my patriotic Americanness.” Only in his presence could she feel, as the mixed-race grandchild of a hibakusha, that “there is no way you would ever harm us.”
When she reached high school, Sabath became a debating champion and made nuclear proliferation her focus. She went on to college at Yale and visited the White House as a student leader for Global Zero, the international nuclear-disarmament group, for which she recently authored a personal essay on herbachan’s “scenes of living hell.” “I hope you will remember my grandmother’s message and act upon it,” she wrote.
* * *
In the late nineteen-fifties, the Japanese government began issuing certificates to hibakusha, entitling them to certain health benefits, and Shoji became the first survivor living abroad to travel back to Japan to reap the benefits. Over the course of those treatments, Shoji gathered for the first time with other survivors, at healing hot springs. It was in that community that she got her first glimpse of psychological relief, and perhaps began to decipher some of her experiences and speak of them to others. Last fall, she traveled to Yale to say to her granddaughter’s classmates, “I want with every breath, with all my strength, to tell people” about the bomb.
In the final pages of Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” he observed that many people he met there were often reticent to speak or even think about the ethics of the bomb; instead, they would offer approximations of “Shikata ga nai,” a Japanese expression that he translated as “It can’t be helped. Oh well. Too bad.”
At eighty-eight, Shoji seems to have thrown off that cosmic shrug. When we finished in the dining room, her daughter gave me a bundle of pastries and fruit, and we all shuffled to the foyer. The whole family stood in the doorway and waved goodbye. Shoji’s cheeks looked pink, and, as I drove off, it was easy to imagine how she might have appeared on her way to work at nineteen, looking up at the August sky.
Sarah Stillman is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a visiting scholar at the N.Y.U. Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
As Gazans begin to return to their shattered lives and neighborhoods, the U.N. has announced a panel to investigate war crimes there, at least those beyond the obvious: 1,814 Palestinians killed, 86% of them civilians including over 400 children, and 485,000 displaced. Still, more stories emerge. Amnesty International has released testimony from health workers showing the Israeli army repeatedly attacked ambulances, hospitals, medics, doctors and others seeking to help the wounded and collect the dead. In light of that and so much else, in a searing speech at an Austin protest, Dr. Rania Masri cites President Obama calling the capture of an invading Israeli soldier by the Palestinian Resistance a “barbaric action” and schools him in what is and is not “barbaric.”
“Barbaric is to deny our identity and to deny our existence…In the name of the Palestinians, who are the most resilient people I have ever known…we pledge to them, that when the bombs stop – and they will stop — we will remember our anger today, we will remember our tears today, and we will not be broken.”
Roger’s note: the other day I posted the video of a talk given by Miko Peled, the son of a military Zionist family, who underwent a dramatic transformation in his life through soul searching (and truth searching) inspired by interaction with the Palestinian community. The result was an abandonment of the official Israeli government and AIPAC narrative about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which paints the Israelis as victims and their aggression as self-defence. In a sense, most of us are in the same boat as Peled. Through the educational system, the mass media and government propaganda, we live with myth as reality, illusion as truth. Edward Bernays, the father of American public relations, invented the Big Lie; Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels perfected it; and it has come to be the every day reality around the globe. This it true in spades for Israeli people, with their universal conscription, compulsory home shelters, and the desperate and deadly terrorist attacks that serve to reinforce the myth.
Here is a review of Peled’s memoir, written by a Palestinian journalist, a textured, compelling and balanced evaluation of Peled’s journey from true believer in the Israeli occupation to advocate for peace and justice for the Palestinian peoples.
My review of The General’s Son, byMiko Peled, cannot be separated from what I’ve come to know about the author. After all, this book is about Peled’s own life, and his journey to a new understanding of the conflict that has defined so many of our lives. It is a narrative of the author’s transformation from an ardent Zionist, born into a revered military Israeli family, to a human rights activist and advocate of asingle binational state.
In addition to reading this book, I attended one of Peled’s lectures and watched another online, and I’ve had a chance to speak with him in person and at some length. At each of these junctures, my reaction to his narrative changed to some degree.
I first picked up this book when I was asked to conduct a live interview with the author in New York. The initial parts, although told from the vantage of reflection, are replete with Zionist myths and verbiage spanning the full spectrum of hard-line Zionism to Zionism-light. Although Peled has made it clear in his lectures that he rejects Zionism, there is equivocation on this point in The General’s Son.
This is perhaps not surprising since he wrote the book over an extended period of time in which Peled was undergoing a process that unhinged fundamental assumptions about his own identity. But this means that the reader is left with phrases like “revival of Jewish national homeland” (26), “his generation fought so hard so that ours could live in a democracy” (58), “heroic missions” (105), and “my people fought so hard to win it back” (119).
More than 100 pages into the book, I was annoyed enough to beg out of my commitment to interview Peled because, as I told his publisher, I didn’t think I was the best person to interview her client if she was looking for me to be a promoter of his book. The publisher suggested I read on. She thought I would change my mind by the end of the book. I agreed, and to some extent my attitude softened, but not to the extent she promised. It was not until the last few pages of the book, when I found the single sentence I had been waiting to read (without realizing that I had been waiting for it), that I felt open to meeting the author. I’ll get to that.
Father of peace?
Peled gives us a personal glimpse of a man that many of us Palestinians could not figure out whether to love or hate. It is clear that many Palestinians loved Matti Peled, Miko’s father, the Israeli general who was one of the chief architects of our ethnic cleansing. Matti Peled was a Zionist who later became an Arabist and actively worked to restore the rights of persecuted Palestinian individuals. In fact, many notable Palestinians referred to him as “Abu Salam” (Father of Peace), although we are told that his motivation mostly stemmed from a desire to “preserve” the moral fabric of Israeli society.
Miko understandably treats his father’s memory with reverence and highlights the man who actively sought peace and co-existence, rather than the war-maker. He presents the reader with the general who was well ahead of his time, one of the earliest advocates of the two-state solution, a prescient man with eerily accurate predictions of popular Palestinian resistance that would turn Israel into a brutal and despised occupier.
The younger Peled tells us of the general who reached out to the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) when his country wouldn’t and who formed a sincere friendship with Issam Sartawi, a senior member of the PLO. All of that is true, but there are holes, too, in this projection. For example, Miko tells us that his father wrote an article lamenting the loss of Ariel Sharon’s “military genius” when the latter was not appointed chief of staff (117).
Matti Peled wrote that Sharon “combined the unique quality of being a brilliant military man, an admired leader and he knew how to organize his command so as to achieve the best possible results on the battlefield.” This article was written in 1973, long after Sharon’s brutal exploits became well known. After all, Ariel Sharon’s massacre in the village of Qibya in 1953 provoked an international outcry, and surely Matti Peled was already well-acquainted with Sharon’s form of “military genius.”
It is clear, however, that the general had a change of heart, not quite to the extent that his son would many years later, but a significant change nonetheless. Interestingly, this does not seem to have been passed on to his children in his lifetime, at least not to his son, Miko. In fact, the author tells us very little about his relationship with his father and one gets the impression that the general was a remote father, impatient with his family, and too absorbed in the affairs of the state to indulge the predilections of the heart.
Thus, the anti-Arab racism suffused in Israeli textbooks and codified in the social milieuwent unchallenged in Miko’s life until he was an adult mourning for his niece, Smadar, who was killed by a suicide bomber not much older than she.
To the reporters gathered at her home, Smadar’s mother (Miko’s sister), professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, blamed the Israeli government’s “megalomania” for her daughter’s death and the death of the suicide bombers. Although she is mentioned infrequently in Miko’s narrative, Nurit emerges from the pages as a woman of great strength and moral fortitude, and a mother in the truest sense.
Miko’s attempt to understand his sister’s reaction pushes him to reach out to Palestinians in his own town of San Diego, California. His first step was a Palestinian/Jewish-American dialogue group, and he took it with no small measure of fear. In fact, both he and his wife were afraid for his life to be in the home of a middle class Palestinian family in suburbia, USA. And when he was there, his wife called a few times to make sure he was okay.
I do appreciate the author’s honesty and respect his willingness to unveil such racist attitudes, but I admit, reading this part reminded me of the white woman who tenses her body and clutches her purse at the sight of a Black man, sure that the man’s only thought is how to rape and rob her. But Peled pushed through that ignorance and pulled his family with him to a sense of brotherhood, even deference, toward Palestinians. That’s a remarkable journey.
It is inspiring and enlightening to read the unfolding of one man’s path to liberate himself from racist ideologies, to disavow the privilege accorded to him because it comes at the expense of those who do not belong to his religion. I imagine it cannot be an easy path.
The critical eye can discern some stumbles in this journey and recognize certain “baby steps” the author takes to internalize the truth. One such example occurs when Miko is confronted by a Palestinian narrative diametrically opposed to what he has known his whole life. He then learns that objective, recorded historical fact supports the Palestinian narrative, not his. So he writes the following: “The willingness to accept another’s truth is a huge step to take. It is such a powerful gesture, in fact, that contemplating it can make you want to throw up.”
In reality, however, it is not so difficult to accept the truth of other human beings when we seek to understand. The truly difficult part, I imagine — the part that makes you want to throw up, perhaps — is the willingness to accept that what you’ve believed your whole life is, in fact, a lie. That is the personal triumph that Miko Peled clearly achieved. He dismantled a lifetime of racist assumptions and replaced them with something more human and tender.
Miko Peled was born in Jerusalem and grew up believing the Holy Land was his rightful ancient homeland. He believed that his own personal lineage extended thousands of years in Jerusalem, even though he was clearly aware that his grandparents arrived in Palestine from Eastern Europe. In describing the friendships he forges with various Palestinian individuals, he speaks of being “sons of the same homeland” and creates a parity with regard to the depth of their roots in that land.
Peled aligns his sense of belonging on a par with that of Palestinians and speaks about recent Israeli settlers with disdain, often referring to their heavy “Russian accent” to emphasize that they are foreigners. Peled says, “I couldn’t help but think it ironic that these new immigrants, who could barely speak Hebrew, had rights over these lands that the Palestinians were denied simply because they were Jewish. Quite unbelievable!” (143).
And when his Palestinian friend Nader el Banna tries to visit his homeland but is detained by one such young Israeli newcomer in a soldier’s uniform, Peled was indignant, saying, “It takes a special kind of arrogance or ignorance, for someone who is new to a country to keep an older person (who was born in that country and whose ancestors were born in that country) out” (150).
He’s right, of course, but he falls short of acknowledging that, in fact, his father’s generation stood precisely in that arrogant and ignorant space and people like my grandfather sat defenseless in Nader el Banna’s place.
In getting to know Miko Peled, I think he understands this, but that that understanding doesn’t come through in the narrative. This attitude extends to land and settlements. On pages 143 and 216, for example, he writes, “these settlements are not going away, I thought, and this land will never be handed back to its rightful owners,” and “having witnessed Israel’s immense investment in infrastructure to attract Jewish settlers and thereby exclude Palestinians — to whom the land belongs.” Peled seems to apply this logic only to the West Bank and makes no reference to the rightful owners of properties in Haifa, for instance. This, to me, was a shortcoming in the book and the principle reason I remained suspicious throughout most of The General’s Son.
Then, with only three pages to go until the end of the book, I read Miko’s account of a conversation he had with his brother-in-law, who apparently still maintains that Israel should remain a Jewish state. Miko clearly disagreed and said: “But you know as well as I that we are all settlers, and all of Israel is occupied Palestine.”
That was the turning point for me. That was the sentence I needed to read, even though Miko didn’t elaborate beyond it.
Admitting the truth
It didn’t matter that Peled overcame a racist ideology. That’s his own personal journey of growth. Nor did it matter that he went so far past his fears that he befriended and came to love certain Palestinian individuals. It didn’t matter that he embarked on humanitarian projects to help. Or that he participated in protests that got him arrested by the Israeli occupation forces.
In the end, what truly mattered was setting the record straight and acknowledging that Palestinians are native sons and daughters who have been cruelly dispossessed of home, history, heritage and story. What mattered was the acknowledgement. Uttering the truth, no matter how painful, is what I needed to hear. Because it was in that admission that Miko Peled became a man I could embrace as a brother and fellow countryman.
In that sense, it can be said that this book is about how Miko Peled was transformed from being the general’s son to being a native son of the land.
Endearing and ugly
Much is packed into the few pages of this book. There are little known historic notes, like the fact that Israel’s taking of the West Bank, including Jerusalem and Gaza was a decision made during the 1967 War, not before it, by the generals, not the civil government. It contains endearing and funny moments. I found it wonderful that Miko’s commanding officer called him the “antithesis of a soldier” because he was too left-leaning.
The reader learns that Benjamin Netanyahu and Miko’s sister Nurit had been like “brother and sister.” That’s hard for me to imagine. But when they run into Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Miko’s son later asks why “that man” had so many bodyguards. Nurit is quick with the delightful reply that “he must have done something really terrible and now he’s afraid for his life.”
There are touching sections of the book where Miko speaks of Palestinian children whom he trains in a karate studio (Miko is a 6th degree black belt). They are tender and endearing and truly lovely. On the opposite end of this spectrum, Peled also describes conversations he had with Israelis in Japan and one gets a sense of how Israelis speak to each other when they think no one is listening. The account of this is sickening, and Miko himself relates wanting to throw up afterward.
My criticisms aside, this is an important book, full of hope and inspiration for a shared destiny between Palestinians and Israelis based on mutual respect and equal rights. I recommend it. And I think Miko Peled is an important new voice, from which I hope to read and hear more.