I am first generation born in the United States and I grew up in what can probably be described (affectionately) as an Italian ghetto. As a child, I remember walking to Sunday mass on a warm summer morning and enjoying the smells of sauce and meatballs, probably simmering since the night before, radiating from many of the homes along East 87th street. I knew my mother was making sauce as well, so I was anxious to return home after picking up a loaf of semolina bread, still hot from the oven, from the local bakery. I knew dinner wasn’t for a few more hours (the main meal on Sunday was in the early afternoon), so when I thought my mother wasn’t looking, I’d break off an end of the loaf, dip it into the sauce, and quickly thrust it into my mouth to avoid detection, inevitably burning my tongue. Read more.
A Time For Vigilance
Perhaps vigilance and dissent, the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, have never been more crucial than at this perilous juncture in American history. Such activism will require unity and dedication if we are to counter the real and serious threat to human rights and progressive values posed by the Trump Administration and a conservative Republican Congress. But in addition to taking to the streets and making our voices heard, we must learn from the past and look to the future to ensure that the mistakes which resulted in a Trump presidency are never repeated.
While many factors probably contributed to the unexpected victory of Donald Trump, much of the blame has been attributed to the alleged hacks by the Russians and the release of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) and Clinton campaign officials’ emails by Wikileaks. As a consequence, allegations have been made that our democracy has been sabotaged by a malicious foreign power, a serious charge for sure, perhaps even an existential threat that should concern every American. As there is absolutely no evidence, however, that the Russians or anyone else hacked voting machines or altered voting technology, perhaps “sabotage” is a dangerous exaggeration that has unleashed a bipartisan frenzy regarding America’s appropriate retaliatory response to this “act of war.” I think even “influencing the election,” though less provocative perhaps, still exaggerates the impact of the hacking and email release. How we describe these “leaks” is not just semantics. Language is important, as it affects, perhaps even determines, how we move forward. Such inflammatory rhetoric has real world consequences as it further degrades our relationship with Russia, increases tension, and ushers in a new era of cold war (or worse). Most importantly, creating fear and paranoia of Russian intent distracts from a legitimate, meaningful inquiry into how such an unqualified, arrogant, narcissist now occupies the White House. Read more.
Why I'm Voting for a Third Party Candidate in The 2016 Presidential Election
Here is my problem. I am convinced that Donald Trump should not be allowed anywhere near the White House, let alone as president. Many pragmatist friends have “advised” that that alone should determine my vote. There is just too much at stake in this election, they warn me, not to take the threat of a Trump Presidency seriously. So it’s imperative that I vote for Hillary Clinton, the only electable alternative. Unfortunately, I am convinced as well that Clinton represents the status quo and if elected cannot be trusted to address the important issues that concern me and progressives in general, e.g., waging peace, ending perpetual war, the destruction of the environment, economic inequality, racism, poverty, etc.
I think the perspective that it is either Trump or Clinton in November is a false disjunctive, a tactic of coercion, and must be rejected. Though certainly disappointed that Bernie Sanders has been denied the nomination, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm and hope that his campaign has inspired. Like Occupy Wall Street several years ago, Bernie Sanders’ movement has mobilized the voiceless and established the groundwork for “revolution.” And though the revolution has not proceeded as I had hoped, I am not disheartened. An opportunity is at hand; let’s not squander it! Consequently, I will not still the waters of revolution by sending a message to forward-thinking revolutionaries that their hopes and dreams for a fair and just America are irrational or impractical. Nor will I become complicit in maintaining the status quo, or worse. Rather, I choose to continue, even intensify, the struggle for positive change and will urge other voters, especially young voters, to do so as well. Read more.
The Struggle Against "Unification" in the Voting Booth
At this point in the ethically and democratically questionable process of choosing the next president of the United States, both "major" parties are ramping up the rhetoric of fear and intimidation to impress upon a rather disillusioned citizenry the imperative of "coming together," building party unity, in the impending battle of the unlikeable and the untrustworthy. From one side we hear, "You must vote for Hillary, she's the first woman to receive the nomination of a major political party. More importantly, anything is better than Donald Trump!" From the other side we hear, "You must vote for Donald Trump, he will make America great again. More importantly, anything is better than Hillary Clinton!" What is clear is that many, if not most, sincere and rational voters on either side lack enthusiasm for their party's presumptive nominee. "Oh, if it could only be otherwise!" they sigh, and offer the observation that the process is imperfect (who would dispute that?), and decry the resultant dilemma that we must forget our principles and values, and make the difficult, though pragmatic (moral?) "choice" to vote for one or the other, the lesser evil. There are no better alternatives available, they tell us, at least none that are "electable."
The quandary that I and many persons of conscience face in such a scenario is clear. How to vote on one's principles when neither candidate inspires confidence, that if elected, he/she can be trusted to address the important issues that concern progressives -- waging peace, ending perpetual war, the destruction of the environment, economic inequality, racism, poverty, etc. Certainly, Donald Trump must not be elected under any circumstance; that's a no-brainer. Should that alone determine my vote? Does the specter of a Trump presidency entail drastic measures, a compromise of my principles? Should I heed the warning of the self-proclaimed (Democrat) pragmatist who reasons that I should vote for Clinton, the lesser evil, to keep Trump from being elected? Or should I hold to my principles and express my outrage and dismay with the process by not voting at all? But wouldn't that give Trump a better chance at victory? Read more.
I Am Neither Hero nor Murderer
Sometimes, specifically on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I am thanked for my “service” by an appreciative and supportive public. Again, I don’t remember performing any service for which I should be thanked. The only thing I can figure is that when I wore the uniform of a United States Marine, I participated in an enterprise whose primary purpose, no whose sole purpose, was to kill people and blow shit up. So I guess those who thank me must think that killing those people and blowing that shit up made a profound positive difference in their lives. For why else would they feel appreciative and thank me for doing it.
The Mythology of Troop Blame
Not everyone agrees, however. Others, inevitably those who oppose war, believe otherwise. They argue that a myriad of unnecessary, illegal, and immoral wars, wars such as in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, during which atrocities and violations of international and moral laws of war were a common occurrence, were made possible by my willingness to “serve.” Maintaining a “what if they gave a war and nobody came” perspective, they believe no morally conscious individual should enlist and that all members of the military are morally obligated to refuse to fight in such wars. Consequently, I am not a hero, in their view, nor are my efforts and “sacrifices” noble. Rather, I am a murderer, an aggressor, and a baby killer. Ironically, I am condemned for my “service,” for the very same reasons that I was proclaimed a hero and thanked – because at one point in my life I wore the uniform of a United States Marine and participated in an enterprise whose primary, no whose sole purpose, was to kill people and blow shit up. So I guess those who think me a murderer and condemn me for my “service” must think that killing those people and blowing that shit up was an unnecessary, illegal, and immoral thing to do. For why else would they condemn me for doing it? Read more.
Healing From War: Thanking a Veteran for Her Service Is Not Enough
How we characterize the injuries sustained by veterans in war is crucial both to our understanding of the war experience and to the healing process. I have argued elsewhere that to ignore, trivialize or subsume the whole of veterans' readjustment difficulties under the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) umbrella as mental illness is misguided and fails to address the spectrum of veterans' injuries and needs. Consequently, for purposes of clarity and accuracy, I have termed the totality of the "invisible wounds" presented by returning veterans as the "psychological, emotional and moral injuries of war." I have detailed the nature of these injuries at length in my book Beyond PTSD: The Moral Casualties of War.
Morality is clinically relevant to veteran healing because combat behavior is in conflict with the soldier's moral foundations.Despite the many voices that have brought attention to the prevalence and severity of moral injury, including Peter Marin's article "Living in Moral Pain," Robert Jay Lifton's book Home From the War and my article on "The Moral Casualties of War: Understanding the Experience," the traditional psychiatric community and Veterans Administration (VA) has long delayed recognizing and accepting the relevance of morality to the readjustment difficulties experienced by members of the military and veterans. To adequately and effectively treat returning soldiers (a term I am using to refer to all members of the military regardless of branch or gender), we must first accept the reality and severity of psychological, emotional and moral injuries and then go beyond PTSD, beyond the idea that all combat injuries are either physical or trauma related. Read more.
Transforming the Wounds of War: A Veterans' Retreat With Claude AnShin Thomas
Not long ago, I received a Facebook "friend" request from Jean, an individual I had known in grammar school. It was nice to hear from her and that she was healthy and doing well. Over the subsequent weeks, we exchanged pleasantries, read each other's posts and caught up somewhat with how our lives had progressed over the past 50 or so years.
The nostalgia was short-lived, however, as Jean rather quickly became concerned, perhaps annoyed is better, with my "preoccupation" with politics and social issues and the "fact" that my Facebook commentaries and analyses - "rants" she called them - were, in her opinion, "unpatriotic and downright anti-American." She expressed what I took to be a heartfelt concern for my well-being, that I was such an angry man, unhappy with my life and my country, and "obsessed" with a war some 50 years gone. She knew I had been a Marine in Vietnam, had heard over the years that I had been affected by the experience, but only now realized the "severity of my condition" - a Facebook diagnosis.
I realized that war never goes away, that it is with you for the rest of your life. "As a friend," she counseled me that I should stop with the politics, protests and dissent, put the war behind me and go on with my life. None of this, of course, was new to me, or, I would guess, to many others who have participated in war, so I politely thanked her for the advice and continued on with my politics, protests, dissent and "rants" about the war. Not long afterward, she had enough I guess, wished me well and unfriended me as I was "unwilling to make positive change in my life."
When Soldiers Say No to War
Christmas in the trenches: The Western Front, 1914
This year we mark the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce. A unique event in the annals of war, when soldiers of World War I, the "war to end all wars," enduring the horrors of trench warfare along the infamous 600-mile Western Front, made a conscious decision to stop the insanity, put down their weapons and said no to war.
As former enemies realized their respective government's deception of dehumanizing the enemy, some soldiers on both sides refused to resume the insanity and the slaughter of those with whom they had become friends.
Amazingly, some say miraculously, despite the knowledge that fraternization with the enemy was regarded by military leaders as treason, a crime punishable by summary execution, many soldiers, recognizing the humanity of the other and their shared sacrifice, cautiously and hesitantly emerged from their opposing trenches to meet and exchange holiday greetings and souvenirs with those who just hours before had been their enemies.
In a letter to his family, Rifleman, C.H. Brazier, Queens Westministers of Bishops Stortford, described the encounter.
You will no doubt be surprised to hear that we spent our Christmas in the trenches after all and that Christmas Day was a very happy one. On Christmas eve, the Germans entrenched opposite us began calling out to us "cigarettes," "pudding," "a happy Christmas," and "English – means good," so two of our fellows climbed over the parapet of the trench and went toward the German trenches. Halfway they were met by four Germans, who said they would not shoot on Christmas Day, if we did not. They gave our fellows cigars and a bottle of wine and were given a cake and cigarettes. When they came back, I went out with some more of our fellows, and we were met by about 30 Germans, who seemed to be very nice fellows. I got one of them to write his name and address on a postcard as a souvenir. All through the night we sang carols to them and they sang to us and one played "God Save the King" on a mouth organ." (Published in The Hertfordshire Mercury, Saturday January 9, 1915). Read more.
On This Eleventh Day
As we parade and display poppies in remembrance of the armistice that ended World War I, the war to end all wars, I am reminded of the last stanza of the timeless poem "In Flanders Fields."
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Parades and displays of poppies accomplish nothing save to allow the multitude, those who make war easily or ignore completely its insanity and horror, to feign support and appreciation for the sacrifices of the few, those who do the killing and the dying. Read More.
Scapegoating Another Veteran
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is home after five years of captivity. I know it’s difficult for those who would like to scapegoat another veteran (just last week it was General Shinseki), this time as a political diversion for their culpability in initiating, supporting, and/or ignoring an illegal war in Iraq, and a futile, misguided 13 year travesty in Afghanistan that cost thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi lives, to appreciate or celebrate his liberation. Though I pledged to friends and relatives who suffered through my many rants that I would no longer comment on this disgraceful train of events, I am compelled to offer one final tirade of scattered observations and thoughts.
Regarding the prisoners that were released in exchange for Sergeant Bergdahl, they were not al Qaeda, the ones allegedly responsible for bringing down the towers (if you believe the official story). They were Taliban who had been held in Guantanamo for many years without trial. The Taliban are not international terrorist, they have not, and I think it safe to say, will not ever come here and threaten the American homeland. Their purpose, their raison d’être, is to restore a Fundamentalist Islamic state in Afghanistan, where THEY live. Now, it may be true that they may have had some direct or indirect connection to the war against Americans but if so only because we invaded and continue to occupy their country (what is it now 13 years?) and continue to drone kill their women and children. Fighting the invader and occupier is not to be a terrorist; it is to be an “insurgent,” or more accurately, a “freedom fighter.” Read more.
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