My Lai Massacre
Monday was Veteran’s Day, the day the United States honors those who have died in its many wars. These days, Veteran’s Day is little more than a Post Office holiday. When I was a young child, a time much closer to the days of the second World War and the police action in Korea, the war dead were remembered in more significant ways than today.
The Vietnam war was my generation’s war. While I was a few years too young to be eligible for the draft, I had uncles and the relatives of friends who fought in Vietnam. I vividly remember the blue and gold stars in the windows of families who had someone serving in military or someone who had been killed. The nightly news broadcasts brought the jungles of SE Asia and the war to our living room. Body counts. American war propaganda. Rumors of napalm being used to burn civilians alive. Then came the war protests, draft card burnings, and young men evading the draft by fleeing to Canada. Kent State shootings. My Lai massacre.
The United States ended the draft in 1973 and began building an all-volunteer military. Every person now serving in the US military is a volunteer. During World War II, twelve percent of Americans served in the military. Today? .05 percent of Americans serve in the military. In 1975, the year the North Vietnamese overran the South and ended the Vietnam War, seventy percent of US congressmen had some military service. Today? Just twenty percent do. (see New York Times article on this)
Since the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1972, the United States has fought three major wars; the Gulf War, 1990-91, the Iraq War, 2003-2012, and the current war in Afghanistan. The United States has also been involved in armed conflicts in Lebanon, Grenada, Pakistan, Libya, Bosnia, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Philippines Yemen, and Liberia. Since 2001, under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the United State military and CIA have waged a global war on terror. It is now easier to list the countries where we do NOT have a military or CIA presence than it is to list the countries where we do. (see Wikipedia for a list of American wars)
Our political leaders are increasingly willing to use the military and the CIA to conduct diplomacy by the end of a gun barrel or a missile fired from a drone. The United States is the world’s policeman and the world seems to be quite willing to let the US be or is unable to stop them. While liberals like to think that George W. Bush was a warmongering president, Barack Obama has proven to be a warmonger too, often expanding Bush’s war of terror techniques. He has expanded the US military’s reach in the world and has unleashed his own terror program using drones. Dick Cheney, while he will never admit it, must be proud of how President Obama continues to take it to supposed terrorists.
Napalm Attack, Vietnam War
I recently finished reading Robert M. Neer’s book, Napalm: An American Biography. Neer details the history and the use of napalm against not only military targets but civilian targets. It is a riveting, well written, well documented, disgusting, horrifying book. Neer details the justifications used by military and political leaders for using napalm and similar incendiary devices against civilian populations. I found it interesting that the recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, President Barack Obama, signed into law Protocol III, an international treaty banning the use of napalm, only to quietly attach a diplomatic reservation that:
“asserted that the United States could disregard the treaty at its discretion if doing so would saved civilian lives” (page 224-25 Napalm by Robert M Neer)
Americans like to think of themselves as a moral, decent people. After all, we are a Christian nation. Nationalism, American exceptionalism, and the doctrine of manifest destiny, course through the veins of the American narrative. Americans are the good guys. America always wears the White Hat and is on the right side of every conflict.
This kind of infantile thinking blinds Americans to the reality of what is being done in their name. Many Americans blindly support the savagery, murder, and war crimes that are done in their name. There is this naïvety that many Americans have about war and its effect not only on soldiers but on the civilians of the countries where America fights her wars. (see Michael Hastings article in the Rolling Stone, The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret) Remember, we fight the enemy over there so we don’t have to fight them here. Far too many Americans buy into the rhetoric made famous by George W. Bush when he said things like:
My administration has a job to do and we’re going to do it. We will rid the world of the evil-doers.
This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.
Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources for our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.
Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false, and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. This propaganda is false, and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam, but we will protect our people from those who pervert Islam to sow death and destruction. Our goal is to help you build a more tolerant and hopeful society that honors people of all faiths and promotes the peace.
The battles waged by our troops are part of a broader struggle between two dramatically different systems. Under one, a small band of fanatics demands total obedience to an oppressive ideology, condemns women to subservience, and marks unbelievers for murder. The other system is based on the conviction that freedom is the universal gift of Almighty God and that liberty and justice light the path to peace.
This is the belief that gave birth to our Nation. And in the long run, advancing this belief is the only practical way to protect our citizens. When people live in freedom, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror. When people have hope in the future, they will not cede their lives to violence and extremism. So around the world, America is promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity.
In 2002, President George W. Bush said, “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.” Many Americans, including President Obama, agree with President Bush’s assertion; that peace comes through war. Rarely do Americans stop to consider what they are saying when they say war brings peace. Does peace come through bombs, bullets, warships, machine guns, drones, and incendiary devices? Does peace really come through shedding the blood of the enemy and countless civilians? If war bring peace, why is it then that the United States has been in a perpetual state of war for most of its existence? (an excellent book on this subject is The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America 1500-2000 by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton)
As I learned through the books of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, war NEVER brings peace, it only brings a cessation of hostilities. True and lasting peace only comes when the nations of the world lay down their arms and pursue non-violent means to settle conflict. The United States has rarely been willing to do this. Even now, as the Obama Administration attempts to negotiate a nuclear treaty with Iran, many Americans and congressmen think the United States should bomb Iran and turn it into a Walmart parking lot.
The history of the United States is a history of armed conflict, bloodshed, and military expansionism. In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.
Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Eisenhower died in 1969. I wonder what he would think of the modern American military-industrial complex that consumes over a trillion dollars a year of taxes and has spread its tentacles across the globe? Eisenhower peered into the future and caught a glimpse of where the United States was headed. The blood of soldiers and civilians, and a runaway Federal debt, are the grim and staggering reminder that Eisenhower was right.
I am a pacifist, converted from my Republican warmongering by the writings of people like Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Eileen Egan, and later Howard Zinn and the Arbinger Institute book The Anatomy of Peace. As a Christian, I came to see Jesus as a social activist who said to his followers:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
- Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
I came to see that IF I was going to be a follower of Jesus I could no longer support war. It became very clear to me that Jesus was saying, you want to be my follower? Be a peacemaker. It was not enough to think that peace was a good idea. A follower of Christ was one who promotes peace and actively pursues it. At that moment, a hypocrite pacifist was born.
While I recognize the need for the United States to protect itself, on principle I do not support war in any circumstance. The United States has not fought a war of self-defense in almost seventy years. I consider every war fought in my lifetime an immoral act, prosecuted for the sake of American imperialism, political expediency, or to protect corporate, capitalistic interests across the globe.
Children Killed in US Drone Attack in Pakistan
I refuse to tip my hat to the US military as they do the bidding of their overlords. I say, not in my name. NOT IN MY NAME! I refuse to be complicit in the death of American soldiers and civilians. I refuse to be party to the maiming of countless American men and women and civilians. I will not lend my name to the violence and bloodshed that is said to keep me safe. I will not marvel as the jets fly over the stadium, a reminder of the military might of the one true global power. When I remove my hat and put my hand over my heart to say the Pledge of Allegiance, I will weep as I think of how much blood has been shed so American capitalistic fantasy can be maintained. I am not willing for one more drop of blood to be shed, be it American or Afghan, so I can enjoy the comforts of American capitalism.
As John McCutcheon wrote in his song, Not in My Name:
You see the plane in the distance
You see the flame in the sky
See the young ones running for cover
See the old ones wondering why
They tell us that the world is a dangerous place
We live in a terrible time
But in Hiroshima, New York or in Baghdad
It’s the innocent who die for the crime..
…We stray and we stumble in seeking the truth
And wonder why it’s so hard to find
But an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
Leaves the whole world toothless and blind…
…Through the ages I have watched all your holy wars
Your jihads, your Crusades
I have been used as inspiration, I’ve been used as an excuse
For the murder and the misery you’ve made
I thought I made it clear in the Bible
In the Torah and in the Koran
What is it in my teaching about loving your enemies
That you people don’t understand?
Like John McCutcheon, I say, NOT IN MY NAME. No more. It is time for the United States to retract its claws and stop being the world’s policeman. Americans ask, why do so many people in the world hate us? Our political leaders, TV pundits, and right-wing clergy tell us that they hate us because of our wealth and our freedoms. They hate democracy, or so says the official story. Why is it so hard for us to see that is our warmongering that has led us to this place? America is hated because of its hubris and arrogance. America is hated because it is the playground bully that beats the shit out of every country or people who oppose its right to dominate the world.
Until Americans are willing to say, NOT IN MY NAME, the bloodshed will continue. We still have the power to affect change if we will use it.
I realize this post will likely piss off some readers. Many readers love my writing on religion and fundamentalism but despise my writing on politics. One thing I know…if I am going to be a writer I am going to piss people off. All I can to is write openly, honestly, and accurately. Love me or hate me…this is who I am.
I read an article today in the latest issue of Rolling Stone on war crimes committed by the Green Beret Special Forces in Afghanistan. Written by Matthieu Aikins, the feature article details the criminal acts of ODA Team 3124, also known as the A-Team. This article is a must read.