One More Time: Give Peace A Chance

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday December 22, 2010 - 10:53:00 AM

They’re talking about peace on earth again, just as they do every year around the winter solstice. We can all be glad that today is the day that days start getting longer again—that’s one sentiment most humans can share, despite strife induced by religion and other causes. (Though nearer to the equator it doesn’t make so much difference, but never mind...) 

There’s modest cause for rejoicing in Congress’s decision to repeal the nutty don’t ask-don’t tell rule. A friend at a neighborhood caroling party opined that this was a secret bonus in Obama’s deal with the Republicans to continue the Bush tax cuts. He’s the kind of person who hopes to believe the best about Obama—but maybe he’s right. 

The kind of people who tend to believe the worst about any leader, including Obama, have had a field day with the tax outcomes, especially the continued estate tax exemptions for people who have more money than anyone needs. Even those who wish the president well are now shaking their heads over his hard-to-explain solidarity with the moneyed interests, and his seeming indifference to the plight of the unemployed, even though extension of unemployment is touted as one of the benefits of the deal which has gone down in Congress. 

Pundits I respect—DeLong, Krugman, Rich, occasional others—are in agreement that many recent economic decisions by the executive branch make little sense. In Sunday’s Times Frank Rich delivered the coup de grace to the silly notion of bipartisanship, as represented by the vapid No Labels aggregation of spineless members of both parties—you’d think they’d be ashamed to show their faces in public after he skewered them, but they’ll undoubtedly carry on regardless. 

Meanwhile, all sorts of dubious administration decisions on other fronts persist. While the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission might have been premature in its attempt to get Private Bradley Manning anointed as a hero, since he’s neither been charged nor confessed, Glenn Greenwald’s revelations last week about how he’s being treated in jail are shocking. 

Solitary confinement, without even a pillow or blanket? That’s torture, regardless of anything Manning did or didn’t do. Concerned citizens (including if they can get their act together, even the Berkeley City Council) have a duty to protest this travesty of justice.  

Then there’s Julian Assange. Rumors persist that the Attorney General’s office is cooking up charges against him. Even more sinister is the rumor that Bradley Manning is being tortured in order to get him to testify against Assange. 

If Assange goes down for publishing valid news received from a credible source, all of us are in trouble, as at least 14 Columbia Journalism School faculty members told the government in a letter this week. Whether or not you approve of what he published or how he published it (and I do), it’s journalism, and the standard rules for freedom of the press should apply. 

It’s even hard to be consistently stoked about the Don’t Ask reversal, since what it really means is making it easier for one more segment of the population to participate in an increasingly pointless but lethal series of boondoggles. Troops are being withdrawn from Iraq now, true, but that country is sinking into another cycle of sectarian strife which seems destined to result in collapsed government. And f there was ever a point to sending any U.S. service members, men or women, gay or straight, into Afghanistan, it’s been lost.  

As I remember, we were looking for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Ladin, but that hasn’t worked out, not at all. In the meantime, many of “our” troops have died in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an uncounted number of civilians who were innocent bystanders. (Yes, I do know that some religious extremists in both countries abuse women, but that’s true in many places which we haven’t [yet] invaded. ) 

The geography of Afghanistan alone has defeated a long line of would-be invaders/saviors, with the British and the Russians only two obvious examples. So why should we rejoice that now it’s easier for gay men and women to participate in such a futile enterprise?  

For the last couple of days NPR has been running a story about how the Defense Department has failed to provide appropriate treatment for the legions of veterans who have survived with traumatic brain injuries in these wars, dominated as they are by improvised explosive devices deployed by what we’re now calling “insurgents”. That’s a name that implies rebellion against some authority, but outside the reinforced perimeters the local leaders are likely to be both in charge and opposed to the NATO forces—they’re not “insurgents” in the ordinary language meaning of the word. And these “insurgents” are often tolerated if not supported by factions in the government of Pakistan as well. 

Another NPR reporter interviewed the Marines’ commander in Afghanistan, who provided an appalling demonstration of the one-dimensional picture American military leaders have of the enemy there. 

In response to a question about how the harsh winter affects the fighting, the general said: 

“… the insurgent here likes to take the winter off, if you will. He wants to go back to his home. He wants to refit, he wants to retrain, he wants to prepare himself for what they called the fighting season over here. 

“We are not going to give him that luxury this year. We're going to maintain the pressure on him throughout the winter season. We're going to ensure that he has no chance to relax. And we believe that at this point we have him backpedaling, and we have an insurgency that is starting to show some fractures. And we believe that to allow him some time off would only be to help him regained his strength for the upcoming year.” 

Guess what: there’s no “he” there—that’s a simplistic caricature reminiscent of roadrunner cartoons. Does the general really believe that a few Americans and even fewer Europeans will be able to defeat a deeply rooted culturally-based strategy which has been perfected over hundreds of years by thousands of Afghan fighters?  

And if “the insurgent” does go “home”, do we bomb said “home”, including presumably the wives and kids, from our drones? Way to win hearts and minds, guys! 

How can we be happy that gay men and women now have an even better opportunity to participate in this folly? It’s past time to bring all our troops, gay or straight, home. 

The reporter on the story about brain-injured veterans was the estimable Danny Zwerdling, who has made a recent specialty of revealing how badly we treat our troops after their service is over. Hearing him reminded me that I had the privilege of dealing with his grandfather, Osias Zwerdling, the founding patriarch of Ann Arbor’s Jewish community, as the war in Vietnam was winding down. Old Mr. Zwerdling, then probably in his nineties, provided the anti-war candidate I was working for with a storefront campaign office as his contribution to ending the war.  

We won the Democratic primary that time, lost the general election, but the war ended soon afterwards. It took the concentrated effort of many dedicated people around the country, young people like me and old people like Mr. Zwerdling, to persuade those in power, both Democrats and Republicans, that the war was a terrible mistake, but we did it then, and we can do it again. 

Peace on Earth. Still a good idea.