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Change You CAN Believe In! June 6, 2011

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By Elaine Brower
(about the author)

// June 6, 2011


It’s been over 10 years now that my son joined the U.S. Marine Corps.   From birth, at least it felt that way, he wanted to be a marine.   He wore G.I. Joe underwear, socks, and even carried the lunchbox.   At Halloween every year he was either a soldier or warrior of some sort.   It was definitely harrowing for me, an anti-war activist from way back since 1969.
Staff Sgt. James Brower, USMC by Elaine Brower

I had begged, pleaded and even promised him a new car for him not to join when he turned 18, but hence, he did.   The recruiters showed up at our house the day after he had his high school diploma, and whisked him away to boot camp in Parris Island.   I felt as if someone had ripped my arm out of its socket!   When he graduated, the entire family went to watch as this young boy was supposedly turned into a “man.”   I ran up to him after all the military hoopla on the Parris Island field, and he didn’t even look at me.   He wouldn’t hug or kiss me, told me that he was in his uniform and was not allowed to show emotion.   Needless to say I was crushed.

From that moment on it was a proverbial nightmare for myself and my family.   James went off to join the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in San Diego, California, the infamous Camp Pendleton.   He wanted to be a grunt, his MOS being 0305, demolitions expert.   Of course, I didn’t find out until he was there training.   He learned how to kill, basically, and operated every piece of weaponry the Marine Corps. had to offer.   He specialty was the Javelin, which is an 80mm shoulder held rocket launcher, which each round cost over $80,000 in taxpayer dollars to shoot.

When September 11th befell us, he was already in the Gulf.   He was on training maneuvers, and I had become accustomed to his calling home at the wee hours of the morning, wanting to chat about his latest adventure about getting drunk in Australia, or bringing aid to E. Timor.   I thought “well, this isn’t too bad.   He’s helping people.”   I had hoped that his 8 years of duty, 4 years active and 4 reserve as his contract stated, would be quiet enough that I could stop worrying and maybe we would all come out of this episode of his life unscathed.   But that morning, when I watched the towers fall across the street from my office building, I absolutely unequivocally knew that we were at war.   I knew that with our resident cowboy in the White House, we were doomed to another Viet Nam.   I envisioned what the next 8 years of my life was going to look like and it was not pretty.

The following week, our illustrious president announced we were going to catch Osama bin Laden, “DEAD OR ALIVE!”   And off went James, right into Tora Bora blowing up caves, trying to obtain the $25 million reward.   Over the next 6 months, he grew more weary, and I didn’t sleep.   Phone calls at 3 AM, explaining that they were told bin Laden was somewhere, and they went to catch him, only to be told to retreat or “pull back.”   We were both puzzled.   There were no answers at that point in time.   Of course, I had my own personal beliefs, but the entire country, if not the world, was on fire with hate and revenge.   Who was I to question this.

When he left Kandahar, and they turned it over to the Army, he was disappointed, but still feeling the spark of patriotism.   At that point my daughter and I were protesting against the war with her college group.   There was no place for me, an anti-war military mom.   She was arrested, and I bailed her out.   James continued in the war theatre with two tours in Iraq.   By 2009, he was haggard, hurt many times, and really started questioning his mission.   At first he attempted to stop my protests, but we both agreed that we would love and respect each others’ lives and beliefs.   In fact, at one point, his commanding officer called him in, had the Pentagon on the phone asking about me and did he agree with my anti-war opinions.   He said “NO, Sir,” but I was his mom, and was entitled to have an opinion, and he would not stop me.   They threatened to dishonorably discharge him, and told him that he must call me to convince me to stop.   He did, I said no, and he said okay.   I told him at that point I would be happy if they discharged him.

By April 2010, James was home and done with his military service.   My life was forever changed by the constant fear of losing my child, the phone calls at all times of the day or night, and looking out the window for that military vehicle to show up at my curb.   I knew many mothers who suffered through that horror, and thought I would be one of them.   My son was not at a desk job, or building parts for the war machine, he was the war machine.   A trained killer.   Every time I spoke out, I would apologize for him, and worked very hard to explain that his choice was not mine, his training was not something I condoned, or supported.

Last year, after his return home, he lost his job, and had severe blackouts and nightmares, he began on his road to the awakening and recovery.   I witnessed it myself on a daily basis.   The ups and downs, the rage, fear, helplessness, and anger that what he had dreamed of, being part of the U.S. Marines, was what destroyed him, physically and emotionally.   He ranted at the government for lying to him.   He became cloistered, depressed and at 28 could not maintain a relationship.   All those problems most people only read about, or don’t even understand, were staring me in the face.   I traveled to VA visits with him; called him several times a day; and, begged him to go get help before he ended his life.

I’m not sure how I was able to survive through years of this type of torment, but I kept telling myself that other mothers had lost their children, so I was one of the lucky ones.   So James and I traveled down this road together, mostly at odds, but locking arms against the darkness.   Until several weeks ago.

There was this change that came over him, and from what I could see it started when he read Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.”   He started to read Wikileaks, and books written by veterans that had similar experiences as he had.   Every day he would learn something new about how his government betrayed him, and his fellow marines, and all the troops serving in the military.   He would call me and like a child who discovered ice cream for the first time, explain this newly uncovered secret as it were, and acted amazed all over again.

I kept telling myself that I was dreaming, or, he would re-up or give up.   I couldn’t bring myself to actually be overjoyed that my son had joined me in my fight against the wars.   Until he stood up in front of a group of high school students in New York City where we live and declared “Don’t join the military.   For me, it was a mistake.   I’m 30 years old, go to physical therapy twice a week, can’t get out of bed in the morning without pain, and am unemployed.   I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

As I watched him speak to this class, the floodgates of my soul opened.   “It was true!”   He changed.   How did this happen?   I cried softly in the front of the room, as I was videotaping the entire transformation right before my eyes.   Ten long years of struggle.   My very own personal battlefront with my son, who I love dearly.   I actually won, but at a cost.   A huge expense to my own emotional health, my daughter who has a hard time forgiving her brother for leaving her to kill people; and to watch James struggle everyday with his traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and chest pains from the burn pits he slept next to for a year in Iraq, is a life altering experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

It’s great to watch him now, listen to him talk about the reality of war, and tell kids to stay away from military recruiters.   From a staunch nationalistic patriot to an independent thinker who has become an anti-imperialist, the strength and fervor he brought to his young dreams, he now applies to his daily


“The Tillman Story”: The surprising saga of a football star at war August 21, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sports, War.
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Friday, Aug 20, 2010 17:50 ET

Andrew O’Hehir

The Chomsky-reading NFL star killed in Afghanistan wasn’t who you think he was — no matter who you are

By Andrew O’Hehir

    A still from “The Tillman Story”

    The death of Pat Tillman, the National Football League star turned Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire — or “fratricide,” as the military puts it — in Afghanistan in April 2004, was a strange event in recent American history. On one hand, Tillman’s death was covered far more extensively than those of any of the other 4,700 or so United States troops killed in the Iraqi and Afghan combat zones. To put it bluntly, he was the only celebrity among them.

    On the other hand, Tillman’s story remains poorly understood and has little social resonance. As a colleague of mine recently put it, Tillman didn’t fit, either as a living human being or a posthumous symbol into the governing political narratives of our polarized national conversation. That’s true whether you’re on the right or the left. If he struck many people at first as a macho, hyper-patriotic caricature — the small-town football hero who went to war without asking questions — it eventually became clear that was nowhere near accurate. Yet Tillman was also more idiosyncratic than the equally stereotypical ’60s-style combat vet turned longhair peacenik.

    Mind you, Tillman might well have become a left-wing activist, had he lived longer. He had read Noam Chomsky’s critiques of U.S. foreign policy, and hoped to meet Chomsky in person. But as Amir Bar-Lev’s haunting and addictive documentary “The Tillman Story” demonstrates, Tillman was such an unusual blend of personal ingredients that he could have become almost anything. It’s a fascinating film, full of drama, intrigue, tragedy and righteous indignation, but maybe its greatest accomplishment is to make you feel the death of one young man — a truly independent thinker who hewed his own way through the world, in the finest American tradition — as a great loss.

    “The Tillman Story” was made with the close cooperation of Tillman’s parents and siblings, who have worked tirelessly over the past six years to expose the circumstances of Tillman’s death and the extensive military coverup that followed it. The film is also meant, to some extent, as an antidote to journalist Jon Krakauer’s 2009 book “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman,” which the family strongly disliked. (Tillman’s widow, Marie, allowed Krakauer to read Tillman’s journals, a decision other family members apparently regret.) Bar-Lev’s dual goals are to document the family’s long crusade to pry the grisly truth about Tillman’s death and the ensuing campaign of lies from the military bureaucracy, and, perhaps more important, to capture the unconventional background that produced someone as unusual as Pat Tillman in the first place.

    To use the Shakespearean cliché, Tillman was a man of many parts, and that goes back to his childhood in a rural California valley south of San Jose, where his parents, Pat Sr. and Mary, encouraged an almost libertarian blend of self-reliance and free thinking in their sons. (The Tillmans are now divorced, but have worked closely together on the campaign to unpack the military’s deceitful behavior.) He emerged as a mixture of qualities that seem simultaneously liberal and conservative, all-American and heterodox. He was a football star and avid outdoorsman who read Emerson; an agnostic or atheist who read the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon out of intellectual curiosity; a man who relished the high-testosterone simulated combat of sports, and excelled at it, while also maintaining an introspective personal journal he allowed no one to read.

    As a friend of mine recently observed, many of Tillman’s characteristics would seem completely normal among the metropolitan educated classes: He never went anywhere without a book, and typically rode his bike rather than driving a car. But Tillman wasn’t a bearded, chai-drinking grad student riding that bike to yoga class in Brooklyn or Silverlake or Ann Arbor. He was the starting strong safety for the Arizona Cardinals, and parked his bike next to his teammates’ Porsches and tricked-out Escalades. Bar-Lev’s film is a bit light on Tillman’s football career, and doesn’t include any interviews with teammates. You have to wonder how much they liked or understood him.

    Now you’re asking the obvious question: If Pat Tillman was such a smart and interesting fellow, why did he walk away from an easy life of fame and money and volunteer for combat on the other side of the world, where he wound up standing on an Afghan hillside and shouting, “I’m Pat fucking Tillman!” at somebody who was shooting him in the head with a machine gun? There’s no easy answer, and in making his film with the Tillmans, Bar-Lev has agreed not to go too far in trying to answer it directly. The Tillman brothers and parents want to respect Pat’s refusal to discuss his reasons in public, so the film never quotes from the journals that Krakauer read.

    Nonetheless I think “The Tillman Story” and Krakauer’s book paint roughly the same picture, in that Tillman’s decision to go to war was more personal and philosophical than ideological. He believed that the U.S. was at war after 9/11 — with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, not Iraq or Afghanistan or Muslims in general, Krakauer says — and decided he had a moral responsibility to take part. He believed in an old-fashioned code of masculine honor and valor, but he had also begun wondering whether his life as a professional athlete was shallow and meaningless. You could almost say he joined the Army in a search for personal meaning and moral purpose.

    After serving a tour of duty in Iraq, Tillman returned home with grave doubts about the morality and efficacy of that conflict, and began to make contact with people who opposed the war. (This is the Chomsky-reading period.) Bar-Lev makes clear that Tillman could have asked for a discharge at that point to resume his football career; the owner of the Seattle Seahawks was eager to sign him, and the NFL would no doubt have made a big show of welcoming a returning hero. Again that old-fashioned moral code intervened: Tillman disliked military life and thought the war was wrong, but he wouldn’t use his fame to avoid fulfilling his three-year commitment. (He had joined up as an ordinary enlisted man, although he would almost certainly have been given an officer’s commission had he requested one.)

    I’m only guessing here, but one of the things the Tillman family hated about Jon Krakauer’s book was probably the author’s tendency to view Pat Tillman’s death as a case study in the evils of war and the limits of idealism. I might incline toward that view myself, but the Tillmans don’t. Right-wing propagandists quickly learned that the Tillman family wasn’t going to stick to the pious, patriotic script. (Pat’s drunken younger brother, Rich, at the nationally televised funeral: “Pat isn’t with God. He’s fucking dead.”) But the Tillmans aren’t interested in starring in an antiwar morality play either. As they see it, Pat Tillman died as he lived, as an American who thought for himself, hewed to his own course and kept his word. It’s the rest of us who have betrayed him.

    “The Tillman Story” opens Aug. 20 in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities, with wider national release to follow.

    The Bodies of Those Who Died in Vain Litter our Landscape May 30, 2010

    Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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    Sun, 05/30/2010 – 12:15 — Anonymous

    It’s Memorial Day Weekend and I am sick to death of the glorification of war in America.

    And I am even sicker of politicians who wrap themselves in the bloody flag and try to rub off some of the stench of death from the bodies of those who have died, mostly in vain for worthless causes, in hopes that taking on some of the odor will cause them to be perceived as admirable patriots themselves.

    President George W. Bush, who dodged danger in the Vietnam War by signing up for the Texas National Guard and then ducked even that domestic duty, and Vice President Dick Cheney who used five different excuses to duck military service, morbidly rubbed themselves with that flag for eight long years, even as they sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women into harm’s for their own personal political advantage.

    President Barack Obama (who also avoided military service), continued this obscene tradition when, in his weekly PR address to the nation, he urged Americans to “leave a flower” on the grave of a soldier who died in one of America’s wars “so the rest of us might inherit the blessings of this nation.” Obama is also sending young Americans to kill and die halfway around the world in a war that has no purpose other than to demonstrate his political “toughness.” Yet he disingenuously declares that it was “to preserve America and advance the ideals we cherish” that “led patriots in each generation to sacrifice their own lives to secure the life of our nation, from the trenches of World War I to the battles of World War II, from Inchon and Khe Sanh, from Mosul to Marja.”

    What utter crap and nonsense!

    I’ll grant you that there were noble motivations that led many Americans to die fighting for this country’s independence. The same can be said for those soldiers who fought and died on the Union side in the Civil War who had the noble goal of ending the crime of slavery. And indeed it was the decision by a group of freed slaves in 1866 in South Carolina to disinter the bodies of Union soldiers who had died in Confederate captivity and who had been unceremoniously dumped in a collective grave, and to give them all decent burials, that established the first Memorial Day.

    But to claim that the over 100,000 American soldiers who died on the front lines in World War I were defending American freedoms, as Memorial Day speakers like Obama do year after year, is simply a lie. World War I was never about a threat to America. It was a war of empire, fought by the European powers, none of which was any better or worse than the others, and the US joined that conflict not for noble reasons or for defense, but in hopes of picking up some of the pieces. My own maternal grandfather, a promising sprinter who had Olympic aspirations, was struck with mustard gas in the trenches and, unable to run anymore with his permanently scarred lungs, ended up having to settle for coaching high school as a career. (My paternal grandfather won a silver star for heroism as an ambulance driver on the front, but was so damaged by what he experienced that he never talked about it at all, my father says.) Sadly, their sacrifices and heroism served no noble cause.

    World War II, at least in Europe, may have had some moral justification, though there can be some legitimate debate as to whether the US and its freedoms were ever really threatened, and certainly many of the Americans who died in that war saw their struggle as worthy, so that we may at least in good conscience honor their deaths.

    But Khe Sanh? Mosul? And for god’s sake, Marjah? Let’s get real.

    Khe Sanh, one of the major battles in the Vietnam War, was just one little piece of a huge malignant disaster in a war that was criminal from its inception, and that had no purpose beyond perpetuating the neocolonialist control by the US of a long-subjugated people who were fighting to be free, just as our own ancestors had done. The over 58,000 Americans who died in that war, who contributed to the killing of over 2 million Vietnamese, many or most of them civilians, may have engaged in personal acts of bravery, but they were not, as a group, heroes. Nor were they over there fighting for American freedom. Some, like Lt. William Calley, who did not die, were no doubt murderers. Most, though, were simply victims–victims of their own government’s years of lying and deceit.

    If we memorialize them, it should be by vowing never again to allow our government to commit such crimes, and to send Americans to fight and die for such criminal policies.

    Sadly, we’ve already allowed that to happen, though, over and over again–in the Panama, in Grenada, in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan and perhaps, before long, Iran and/or Pakistan.

    Take the president’s mention of Mosul. It is a city in Iraq, and the Americans who died there and in other Iraqi cities died because of the criminality of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who manufactured a criminal war of aggression against Iraq, a country that posed no threat to the US. They died too because of the cowardice and venality of the Democrats in Congress who allowed themselves to be bullied and extorted into supporting that criminal war. The five thousand Americans who died, and the hundreds of thousands more who have been gravely wounded in that war, not to mention the more than a million who fought there or worked in support roles for others who fought, were not defending any of our “cherished ideals.” They were simply helping oil companies like Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, Shell and yes, British Petroleum, secure control of the Iraqi oilfields. They were simply helping Bush and Cheney win re-election. They were simply helping inflate the profits of Halliburton, Boeing, Lockheed, Blackwater and other war profiteers.

    Noble deaths indeed.

    As for Marjah, its mention at all in the same breath as the American Revolution or the Civil War is simply laughable, but it is also truly grotesque. The little farming communities that the Pentagon PR machine lyingly described as a small city swarming with Taliban fighters was nothing but a staged and carefully managed battle set, designed to make Americans forget that the US was (and is) bogged down in an unwinnable war of conquest and occupation in Afghanistan. The few American soldiers and Marines who died there died for the sake of White House and Pentagon propaganda, not for the sake of defending Americans’ vaunted freedoms. The set has now been torn down, the klieg lights have been turned off, and “Marjah” has reverted to Taliban territory again.

    This blind worship of US militarism has got to stop!

    Never again should Americans be sent to kill and die for politicians.

    If and when America and American freedom are really threatened, I have no doubt that American men and women will rise to the occasion and show the kind of nobility and heroism that was evident in the Revolution and the Civil War. But in the meantime, we need to stop glorifying all these wars that were criminal, or that could have been avoided. Memorial Day should be a day to demand peace, a day to demand an end to a military-industrial complex that claims nearly half of the nation’s general funds, a day to focus on the real threats to American’s “cherished ideals,” most of which are purely domestic, and a day to celebrate what those ideals are: equalty before the law, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom from government intrusion in our lives, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers, and the right to stand up and say that our political leaders are, for the most part, crooks, charlatans and even war criminals.

    The Day of the Dead May 26, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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    Monday 25 May 2009, www.truthout.org

    by: Cindy Sheehan, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

    I was on an airplane flying to Orange County from Sacramento to attend the al-Awda Conference, which is a Palestinian Right’s Conference (al-Awda translates to “The Returning”), when the pilot’s voice filled the cabin to make an announcement that I think went unnoticed by most of my fellow passengers, but I heard it.

        As the plane was on the approach to John Wayne airport, the Captain came on the intercom to remind us all to “remember our brave troops who have died for our freedom.” Even in this post 9-11 paranoid paradigm, if I wasn’t belted in for landing, I would have popped out of my seat at 13D and charged up to the cockpit to let the pilot know that my son was killed in Iraq and not one person anywhere in this world is one iota more free because he is dead.

        As a matter of fact, the people of Iraq, the foreign country thousands of miles away where my oldest child’s brains, blood and life seeped into the soil, are not freer, unless one counts being liberated from life, liberty and property being free. If you consider torture and indefinite detention freedom, then the pilot may have been right, but then again, even if you do consider those crimes freedom, it does not make it so.

        Here in America we are definitely not freer because my son died, as a matter of fact, our nation can spy on us and our communications without a warrant or just cause, and we can’t even bring a 3.6 ounce bottle of hand cream into an airport, or walk through a metal detector with our shoes on. Even if we do want to exercise our Bill of Rights, we are shoved into pre-designated “free speech” zones (NewSpeak for; STFU, unless you are well out of the way of what you want to protest and shoved into pens like cattle being led to slaughter), and oftentimes brutally treated if we decide we are entitled to “free speech” on every inch of American soil.

        If you watch any one of the cable news networks this weekend between doing holiday weekend things, you will be subjected to images of row upon row of white headstones of dead US military lined up in perfect formation in the afterlife as they were in life. Patriotic music will swell and we will be reminded in script font to “Remember our heroes,” or some such BS as that.

        Before Casey was killed, a message like that would barely register in my consciousness as I rushed around preparing for Casey’s birthday bar-be-que that became a family tradition since he was born on Memorial Day in 1979. If I had a vision of how Memorial Day and Casey’s birthday would change for my family, I would have fled these violent shores to protect what was mine, not this murderous country’s. Be my guest; look at those headstones with pride or indifference. I look at them now with horror, regret, pain and a longing for justice.

        I can guarantee what you won’t see this holiday weekend are images of the over one million Iraqi dead. Say we assign, in an arbitrary way for purely illustrative purposes, an average height of five feet for every person killed in Iraq and then line those people up from head to toe. That gruesome line would stretch from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon… 950 driving miles up Interstate 5. If we count the Iraqis who have been forced to flee, we would have to go back and forth between Los Angeles and Portland another four times.

        There are obscene amounts of people who have been slaughtered for the US Profit Driven Military Empire who do not count here in America on any day. People in Vietnam are still dying from the toxins dumped on their country by the US, not to mention the millions who died during that war. Let the carnage escalate in Afghanistan while we protect our personal images by turning a blind eye to Obama’s war crimes. Are you going to feel a lump of pride in your bosom when the coffins start to be photographed at Dover for this imperial crime of aggression? Will you look at those flag-draped boxes of the lifeless body of some mother’s child and think: “Now, I am free.” Is it better to be dead when Obama is president?

        A tough, but real, aspect of this all to consider is, how many of the soldiers buried in coffins in military cemeteries killed or tortured innocent people as paid goons for the Empire? To me, it is deeply and profoundly sad on so many levels. If I have any consolation through all of this, I learned that my son bravely refused to go on the mission that killed him, but he was literally dragged into the vehicle and was dead minutes later – before he was forced to do something that was against his nature and nurture.

        Casey will always be my hero, but he was a victim of US Imperialism and his death should bring shame, not pride, as it did not bring freedom to anyone. I will, of course, mourn his senseless death on Memorial Day as I do every day.

        However, we do not need another day here in America to glorify war that enables the Military Industrial Complex to commit its crimes under the black cloak of “Patriotism.”

        From Palestine to Africa to South America, our quest for global economic domination kills, sickens, maims or oppresses people on a daily basis, and about 25,000 children per day die of starvation. I am not okay with these facts and I am not proud of my country.

        I will spend my reflective time on Memorial Day to mourn not only the deaths of so many people all over the world due to war, but mourn the fact that they are the unseen and uncared for victims of US Empire.


    Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Bush’s war of terror on 04/04/04. She is the co-founder and president of Gold Star Families for Peace and the Camp Casey Peace Institute. She is the author of three books; the most recent is “Peace Mom: A Mother’s Journey Through Heartache to Activism.” Following an unsuccessful challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sheehan launched a radio show on 960AM in the San Fransisco Bay Area that can also be heard on Soapbox.com.

    War Crazy December 24, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized, War.
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    24 December 200824 December 2008 I have always thought myself a free spirit, a philosopher mendicant, seeking an alternative, more substantive lifestyle. Others, however, see my unorthodoxy, my “spiritual seeking,” as abnormal and a clear indication of my insanity. Perhaps I need to pause and reevaluate my life. After all, being insane is not something one readily admits. I guess it’s part of being crazy to cling to a facade of sanity, to think oneself normal and everyone else insane.

        One thing I am certain of, however. I haven’t always been crazy. Wasn’t born crazy. I think insanity crept up on me, happened in Vietnam, in the war. War does that, you know, drives people crazy. Shell shock, battle fatigue, soldier’s heart, PTSD. All that killing and dying can make anyone crazy.

        Some survive war quite well, they tell me. Manvy even benefit from its virtues. But war’s effects are not always apparent. No one escapes war unscathed in body and in mind. All war, any war, every war, ain’t no virtue in war.

        I think, of those not driven crazy by war, many were crazy already. But theirs was an insanity of a different kind, a hard kind, an uncaring kind. I knew people like that. Didn’t like them much. Thought them fortunate, though, as killing and dying meant nothing. In fact, in a perverse way, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the jazz, the excitement, the power. They became avenging angels, even god herself, making decisions of life and death, but mostly death. Those crazies hated to see the war end. For me, the war never ends.

        Sometimes things work out for the best, though, as my unorthodoxy, my being crazy, probably saved my life. You see, sane people can’t live like this, in a war that never ends. Not all crazy people can either. Guess I was lucky. Sometimes being crazy helps you cope. Sometimes I wish I were crazier than I am.

        Serious introspection has made clear the basis of my unorthodoxy, the nature of my insanity. It is a cruel wisdom allowing – no, better, compelling – a clarity of vision. I have seen the horror of war, the futility and the waste. I have endured the hypocrisy and arrogance of the influential and the wealthy, and have tolerated the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of the compliant and the easily led. War’s malevolent benefactors, who pretend and profess their patriotism with bumper-sticker bravado, with word but not deed, intoxicated by war’s hysteria, from a safe distance. Appreciative of our sacrifices, they claim, as they applaud the impending slaughter, sanctioning by word, or action, or non-action sending other men and women to be killed, and maimed, and driven crazy by war.

        And when they benefit from the carnage no longer, their yellow ribbon patriotism and shallow concern fade quickly to apathy and indifference. The living refuse of war that returns are heroes no longer, but outcasts and derelicts, and burdens on the economy. The dead, they mythologize with memorials and speeches of past and future suffering and loss. Inspiring and prophetic words by those who sanction the slaughter to those who know nothing of sacrifice.

        I used to try to explain war to help them understand and to know its horror, naively believing that war was a deficiency of information, understanding, discernment and vision. But being crazy has liberated me, allowing me to see that war is not a deficiency at all, but an excess of greed, ambition, intolerance and lust for power. And we are its instruments, the cannon fodder, expendable commodities in the ruthless pursuit of wealth, power, hegemony and empire.

        And now, I accept and celebrate my unorthodoxy, my insanity, as an indictment of the hypocrites and the arrogant, of the ignorant and the narrow-minded for a collective responsibility and guilt for murder and mayhem, and crimes against humanity. And I offer my insanity as a presage of their future accountability – to humankind in the courts of history, and to the god they invoke so often to sanction and make credible their sacrilege of war.

    by: Camillo “Mac” Bica, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

    by: Camillo “Mac” Bica, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

    Does Old Glory Have a Dark Side? December 20, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
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    (artwork: vsi.com)


    19 December 2008

    by: Lee Drutman, Miller-McCune.com

    initial reluctance to wear a flag pin caused some opponents to question his patriotism. After all, some conservatives argued, the flag is the quintessential symbol of American patriotism, and by not wearing it on his lapel, well, one could only assume … Markus Kemmelmeier, a professor of social psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and colleagues show that gazing upon the red, white and blue actually does very little to stoke feelings of patriotism. an article Kemmelmeier co-authored with David G. Winter, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. The study describes two specific experiments, one in which undergraduates responded to a survey with and without a large American flag in the room and one in which undergraduates responded to a questionnaire with and without three American flags printed on the paper. lost letter study in which handwritten and stamped but undelivered letters were left on car windshield wipers, all with the same post office box. Half of the letters were addressed to a fictitious Muslim charity; half were addressed to a fictitious Christian charity. Among each group, half had an American flag on them, and half didn’t. David A. Butz (formerly a graduate student at Florida State University and now a postdoc at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst), E. Ashby Plant (a professor of psychology at FSU) and Celeste E. Doerr (a psychology graduate student at FSU) recently administered word identification tests to undergraduates to measure how long it took them to discriminate between real and nonsense words that came up on a computer screen. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. ‘real-life’ overt political behavior.” In his experiments, participants – all Israelis – who saw the flag flashes answered questions with a more “mainstream Zionist” tilt than those who didn’t. Carey Baker Freedom Flag Act) that mandates flags be placed in every public classroom – kindergarten to college – in the state. (A similar law also recently passed in Arizona.)

     Early in the presidential campaign that was, Barack Obama’s

        But are the stars and stripes as much a symbol of patriotism as many make them out to be? Probably not, according to some new research on the effects of exposure to the American flag. Experiments conducted by

        But it does make people more individualistic, more materialistic and – perhaps most troublingly – more nationalistic.

        Researchers tend to define patriotism as love of one’s country; nationalism, on the other hand, tends to measure feelings of superiority. “Nationalism takes into consideration that there are others and that your own country is not just only loveable but also different and better than others,” Kemmelmeier explained.

        Originally from Germany, Kemmelmeier said he was struck by the omnipresence of the American flag when he arrived in the United States in 1994. “Every plumber has one on his plumbing uniform; churches even have flags in them,” he said. “This is strange to people in other countries.”

        Ten years ago, Kemmelmeier and colleagues at the University of Michigan (where he was then getting his Ph.D. in social psychology) were trying to prime feelings of patriotism by showing people the American flag, testing the conventional wisdom that the flag made people more patriotic. But try as they might, the only feelings they were able to elicit by showing people the flag were feelings of national superiority (i.e., nationalism).

        The nationalism-eliciting findings are published in the October issue of Political Psychology in

        In both cases, according to the article, “the flag not only prompted participants to think about their own country as superior to and dominant in the world, but also induced a mode of hierarchical thinking as evidence in elevated group-dominance scores.” In other words, according to Kemmelmeier, the flag makes people think that some people and some countries are better than others, a mode of thinking, he said, that makes people “feel more entitled to express prejudice.”

        The paper also notes that “nationalism has been implicated in aggression, oppression, and warfare.”

        Kemmelmeier is now in the process of writing up two other sets of studies on exposure to the American flag. In one group of experiments, he found that seeing the stars and stripes elicits stronger feelings of individualism and materialism and much less collectivist feeling. “It brings forth an idea of ‘I’m my own person; I am free here; I have the freedom to enjoy these inalienable rights,'” Kemmelmeier explained.

        The other group of experiments (also in the process of being written up) is a

        The return rate for the letters without a flag was consistently between 50 and 60 percent, regardless of whether the charity was Christian or Muslim. But when the American flag was on the envelope, a remarkable 90 percent of the letters addressed to the Christian charity consistently came back to the post office, while only between 30 and 40 percent of the Muslim charity letters were returned.

        “As soon as there was a flag sticker, that changed the meaning completely,” Kemmelmeier explained. “Adding the flag shapes how you should interpret what religion somebody is.”

        But while Kemmelmeier’s studies point to a somewhat unsettling take on what Americans take away from seeing the flag, another set of studies offers a more positive perspective, suggesting that the presence of Old Glory primes egalitarian concepts and also may make Americans less hostile to Arabs and Muslims.


        Participants who saw a flag before the test more quickly identified words associated with egalitarianism than those who didn’t. Exposure to the flag also elicited more favorable attitudes toward Muslims and less nationalism in a survey. The findings were reported in 2007 in the

        “What we show is that the flag is associated with egalitarian concepts,” Butz said. “This is true for both high- and low-nationalism people. It’s not moderated by political party. What it means is that through socialization experiences, we gain these egalitarian concepts with the flag.”

        However, Butz speculated that “perhaps this is a surface meaning.” He was actually a little surprised by the egalitarianism-priming findings, given other research suggesting that exposure to the American flag increases nationalism and the hierarchical, anti-egalitarian feelings that come with that.

        “The flag has a complex range of associations,” he said. “Symbols like the flag can be multireferential. They can mean different things to different people. It shows how tricky it is to study the symbols.”

        In Israel, cognitive scientist Ran Hassin studied the association that subliminal flashes of the Israeli flag had on discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and found that “subliminal presentation of a national flag can bring about significant changes not only in a citizen’s expressed political opinions within an experimental setting but also in their

        Whether that meant the flag drew viewers to the political center, as Hassin theorized, or that symbols primed people based on their pre-existing associations was a question he left for future research – such as that of Kemmelmeier and Butz – to answer.

        Butz got interested in studying the flag in light of a 2004 Florida law (the

        These laws worry Butz. “We don’t know a lot about the potential for symbols to influence behavior,” he said. “It’s scary to think that there are laws out there on the thinking that flags influence patriotism, and there’s no evidence for that.”

        Another reason for concern comes from some research that Butz has done on student performance in the presence of the American flag. With a flag in the room, he found, white students perform about 10 percent better on math tests than they do otherwise. But non-white students perform at the same level.

        “What we find in studies – and this is now being replicated – is that whites are getting a performance boost, and that’s disturbing,” Butz said. He speculated that it might have something to do with whites feeling more included in the presence of the flag.

        Both Kemmelmeier and Butz stress that the psychology of the American flag is complicated. It can prime a wide range of emotions, depending on the person and the situation. There may also be regional differences. And while the flag is not necessarily the pure symbol of inspired patriotism that some might make it out to be, neither is it necessarily a pure symbol of nationalism and individualistic materialism. A lot depends on the context.

        “It can have a negative impact, but nowadays there is a real opportunity to re-interpret what it means to be an American,” Kemmelmeier said. “The flag is always amorphous, and the meaning is always dependent on how it is used.”