Monday, May 27, 2013

Honoring Those Who Spoke Out

As MSNBC host Chris Hayes discovered to his surprise and chagrin last year, you don't criticize the term "war heroes" on Memorial Day and get away with it. Here are his fateful words:
Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
No, he wasn't wrong about that. I actually think his words were measured, sensitive and circumspect in addressing a subject deserving of a lot more outrage and vitriol. But such was the outrage from all over the political spectrum that he was soon forced to issue an apology, which ended thusly:
But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.
Since Hayes is one of the few bona fide journalists gracing the airwaves today, I think that his apology, in retrospect, was a relatively small price to pay for keeping his job. He was even considered ready for primetime and given a promotion recently by his corporate bosses of the media industrial complex. 

This is not the usual story. There is a long history of other fine reporters who have been fired from media empires or otherwise marginalized for speaking truth to power about our great American War Machine.

The late Howard Zinn had his Boston Globe column cancelled in 1974 after he spoke out against war. On Memorial Day, no less:
Memorial Day will be celebrated as usual, by high-speed collisions of automobiles and bodies strewn on highways and the sound of ambulance sirens throughout the land.
It will also be celebrated by the display of flags, the sound of bugles and drums, by parades and speeches and unthinking applause.
It will be celebrated by giant corporations, which make guns, bombs, fighter planes, aircraft carriers and an endless assortment of military junk and which await the $100 billion in contracts to be approved soon by Congress and the President.
You can read the whole thing here. It remains a classic of anti-war literature, even more timely than when it was written nearly forty years ago.

Chris Hedges resigned from the New York Times rather than hang around waiting to be fired, having been booed off the stage for delivering an anti-Iraq war college commencement address in 2003. An excerpt:
Because we no longer understand war, we no longer understand that it can all go horribly wrong. We no longer understand that war begins by calling for the annihilation of others but ends if we do not know when to make or maintain peace with self-annihilation. We flirt, given the potency of modern weapons, with our own destruction.
The seduction of war is insidious because so much of what we are told about it is true -- it does create a feeling of comradeship which obliterates our alienation and makes us, for perhaps the only time of our life, feel we belong.
War allows us to rise above our small stations in life; we find nobility in a cause and feelings of selflessness and even bliss. And at a time of soaring deficits and financial scandals and the very deterioration of our domestic fabric, war is a fine diversion. War for those who enter into combat has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it the lust of the eye and warns believers against it. War gives us a distorted sense of self; it gives us meaning.
I.F. Stone had already been blacklisted from the mainstream press for decades when he became the first and only journalist to challenge Lyndon Johnson's veracity on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident in the Vietnam War. Since no corporate outlet would have him, he'd started his own weekly newsletter, the archives of which can be found here. You might even call him the prototype of the independent blogger, answerable to nobody. His mantra has been largely ignored or forgotten by the sycophantic propagandists of war masquerading as contemporary journalists:
All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.
See my previous post about smoking and drones. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

But to its credit on this platitude-heavy Memorial Day, the New York Times did use the occasion to finally criticize President Obama's backdoor proposal to modernize our fleet of nukes. As I laid out in a post last month, Obama's actions in this regard once again directly contradict his campaign promises. Here's my own Times comment to help counter today's outbreak of war glorification sentiment:

According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of Nuclear Scientists, what Obama is proposing is nothing less than the development a stealth nuclear weapons system, every bit as streamlined and precise as his beloved drones, one "that expands the targets you can hold at risk from Europe, because by placing the explosion closer to the target you can choose a lower explosive yield. That is very important as there is less radioactive fallout. For many people this is a great concern because it means making nuclear weapons more 'usable'."
This should be sending a chill right up your spine, especially since there has been little fanfare in the media about this sneaky, deadly backdoor item in the president's budget -- not to mention lack of reaction from leaders of Congress. If they can't even rein in gun violence here at home, I suppose it's too much to ask that they put the kibosh on bigger, deadlier killing machines abroad.
When it comes to maintaining the military-industrial complex, no price is too high, no weapon too lethal, no defense contractor's pocket too deep, no politician too hypocritical.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Karen, I'm looking forward to re-reading the Zinn and others.

I wonder if in this collection, you might include the anti-drug-war statements of David Simon and Michelle Alexander. After all, the war on drugs has been fought with soldiers and guns, many of the armaments being produced by the military-industrial complex, but it lacks the attention (despite its forty years) received by the last decade's foreign wars and occupations.

To what extent is our ability to ignore the vast casualties and destruction of the four-decade-long drug war -even those battles fought on our own soil - linked to our entrenched class and race bias?

Jay - Ottawa said...

As Karen makes clear, more and more journalists are catching on to the lie on two feet called Obama.

I doubt he could ever win a third term (under the so called "Bloomberg Exception," a bill drawn up by the Progressive Caucus and now circulating in the Senate) –– unless of course the Republican party puts up another candidate that once again makes Obama the lesser of two evils.

Anonymous said...

I really wish Jay was right, but I'm not seeing any sea change when it comes to media's fawning over Obambi. Liz Drew in NYRB, and Jane whoever at The New Yorker, On the Media, etc, are still gung-ho for the Commander in Chief, despite the forgettable little farts of protest from Ryan Lizza and one or two NYT editorials.

It's wholly disheartening to read the comments in the Times week after week. This remains, to them, all Bush's fault, with Obama having no power to change course. And it's only going to get worse. The blind Obama followers are about to descend on the Thersites(es) of the commentariat (such as La Garcia) as the 2014 elections loom.

Were it not for the two-term limit, I'm certain Obama could win a third term.

spreadoption said...

Could Obama win a third (hypothetical) term? I go back and forth on that.

I was thrilled to find, in the NYT editorial Karen references, a number of commenters, including some regulars besides Karen, with strongly-worded opposition to Obama. My first reaction is, Hooray, the Left is waking up! And what if the NYT is waking up! Let's hope they get into the habit (though this piece was seemingly not widely read - only 124 comments at my last count).

Even in several of our little towns along the west coast, there were demonstrations against Monsanto on Saturday, joining what I understand was a worldwide day of protest against that particular corporation for their crimes against humanity.

Is there movement beginning, of a magnitude strong enough to do any good? Too soon to tell, but this is encouraging.

The message I try to sell: Is it that Obama is afraid to look weak to the Republicans, or is it that he is one with them? The fights in Washington are not over substantial differences in policy; the fights are theater over who wins the next election. Until those of us on the Left understand these two simple realities, we cannot begin to make our nation a better one.

Still, it's hard to be optimistic. If the Democratic Party is but a variation of the Republican Party, and if more people on the Left stay home in 2016 or vote for a third party, in disgust over Obama and the Democrats... well, how do we ever get off this dismal merry-go-round?

Anonymous said...

as far as the NYT comments go, it seems to be cyclical. I've been reading them with a near-religious zeal (or, more aptly, a morbid fascination) since 2007, and kept a tally for a good half of 2010.
This particular moment in time does not seem to be one in which Obama critics are winning many "recommends", but I can't back that up with a spreadsheet. I've just observed more critical Democratic readers posting in the post-election lulls. As the campaigns emerge on the distant horizon, the herd (perhaps with reason) tightens, and it feeks like that's where we're currently at.
I also wonder to what extent we're being played when we read the comments:
1) I've many times submitted comments in praise of Garcia comments that don't get published - so along the same lines, how many comments critical of Obama are simply not being posted?
2) If you've got an org like OFA that is cash-rich, can't you just hire people to upvote the blindly pro-Obama comments? This is one reason I stopped keeping a tally of how many "recommends" the Obama critics received, next to, say, predictable Obama fluffers like Stu in Brooklyn and Rima Regas in Mission Viejo.

OTOH, Obama is his own special kind of adorable teflon, so it could all be very genuine.

Jay - Ottawa said...

The very special skill of politicians is defined by Glenn Greenwald in the opening paragraphs of his critique of O's Big Speech of last week.

"The hallmark of a skilled politician is the ability to speak to a group of people holding widely disparate views, and have all of them walk away believing they heard what they wanted to hear."

I should apologize for my bad habit of calling Obama a liar. O is merely the latest world-class poster child for ambiguity and deception through the skilful use of words meeting each other coming down the hill.

If only more of us had paid attention in the fifth grade when teachers like Karen taught us how to diagram and parse sentences. That skill equals dozens of courses in logic and political science.

Will said...


The images dancing in my mind of Stu & Rima taking turns as Obama's personal fluffer have me giggling like an 8th grader. I don't know whether to thank you or curse you. Probably both. :)

pete v said...

...NYT comment moderators green-light this rhetorical gem of a rebuttal to KG's excellent Krugman/ACA comment yesterday:

Jack - Illinois
Come on Karen. I'm waiting for you to give President Obama credit.

I mean, c o m e _ o n .

Anonymous said...

It probably wasn't nice of me to conjure that image before your lunchtime. Sorry.
Maybe it would help to think of another, similar word... how about... fluffernutter? I wiki'd it to make sure it was safe - turns out to have a political history in the Massachusetts State Senate. Per wiki, it's also known as the liberty sandwich... why???

"(State Senator Reinstein) claimed she planned to "fight to the death for Fluff" and supported legislation that would make the Fluffernutter the official state sandwich. The measure failed, and Reinstein tried again unsuccessfully in 2009."

Larry Jones said...

Thank you for this post. I heard Chris Hayes last year and I'm a fan of Joe Frank's "War vs. Peace", but I didn't know about the rest of them. Even here in liberal California, everyone loves the "heroes," at least on Memorial Day.

Anonymous said...

That Joe Frank piece was something - esp. since it lets you read the poem before hearing Frank's trademark delivery. The Homeric reference to men turned into swine was truly subversive - it's not a woman, Circe, who does this mischief, but peace, in Frank's bitter tale.