Category Archives: Viet Nam

Lethal Fluctuations: The Death Penalty in Asia

The Malaysian government last year expressed a surprise change of heart on a policy long held dear; it would reconsider the death penalty. The case of Muhammad Lukman, sentenced to death in August for the purchase and sharing of medicinal marijuana, did much to stimulate outrage.  On October 10th, law minister Liew Vui Keong announced that it would be abolished.  Doing so would leave such last bastions as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In other parts, capital punishment is either continuing its grim dance (in Singapore, usage is on the rise; in Vietnam, it remains consistently high) or getting back in business, singing its deadly siren song.  Killing people in the name of state vengeance is becoming vogue even as it retreats in other contexts.  The Kingdom of Brunei, despite having it on the books since the days of being a British protectorate, is only now contemplating, in all seriousness, putting people to death who have a liking for, or find themselves committing, sodomy.  (Lesbian reverie will see a penalty of 40 lashes and a potential prison sentence of 10 years.)

In the Philippines, an aggressive, insistent President Rodrigo Duterte has proven something of a trail blazer, scorching his way through human rights quibbles and filling the morgues.   In July 2017, he explained the rationale for using capital punishment without mercy in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).  “It is time for us to fulfil our mandate to protect our people.  Tapos na’yan.  For so long we have to act decisively on this contentious issue.  Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it’s also about retribution.”

Duterte’s view of the penal code is stripped of ornate reasoning.  It is one of vengeance and pessimism, marshalled against any hope of restorative justice or therapeutic reform.  The law, a legacy of the Spaniards and then translated into English, with revisions, “is the essence of retribution.”  The attitude there involved “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  You took life, you must pay with it.  That is the only way to even.  You can’t place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight.”

The result has been one of carnage: over 5,000 deaths between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018, if you believe the official figures, or the greater number of 12,000, if you believe in activist assessments.  This pool drew on a total of 164,265 arrests (“drug personalities”, no less) as part of 115,435 anti-drugs operations.

In Sri Lanka, the interest has also been rekindled, inspired, in no small part, by the blood lust of the Philippines leader.  The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena felt moved by Duterte’s efforts to combat drug trafficking, a true “example to the world”.  “I hope to carry out the first hanging within a month or two.  I appeal to human rights organisations not to try to pressure us on this decision.”  From a prison population of 1299 facing capital punishment, 48 are convicted drug offenders.

The Sri Lankan case had a twist.  While Sirisena had announced an end to the 43-year moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related crimes, complemented by Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale’s clearing of the decks for five drug convicts to be dispatched, a reality started to sink in: the state lacked the necessary trained instruments of death.  The moratorium had been so lengthy so as to make the system rust.  Expertise in breaking necks, in other words, was lacking. The last executioner to reach retirement age left the post in 2014.  Three others have spent short stints gazing at unused gallows without rewarded effort.

Advertisements to fill the vacancy were duly put out for two hangmen.  In the Daily News, a call out for applications with “an excellent moral character” was made.  They would also have to pass a test of “mind and mental strength”.

Such debates about the formalised death penalty in the Philippines and Sri Lanka avoid the obvious point.  Where to with the death squads who have donned extra-judicial uniforms?  Duterte’s encouragement of police brutality and extra-judicial killings (“my only sin,” he claims) is the stuff of legend.  Sri Lanka can also count itself as an enthusiast in the extra-judicial killing game.  In some states, the death penalty, dormant or otherwise, is a reminder about how state operatives go about their business of sowing terror when they prefer to avoid courts.

While the death penalty has, at its core, a flawed philosophy, its attractiveness often lies in its sheer conclusiveness.  Such decisions are final, doing away with the problem.  They are economic – a corpse is less of a strain on the public purse than a living inmate.  To that end, imposing the death penalty can result from trivial impulses.

Such monstrous triviality was recently in play in Thailand. In Phuket, the airport authorities have been entertaining the possibility of grave punishments for those taking “selfies” on Mai Khao Beach, a site known for sightings of low, incoming aircraft.

“People and tourists will not be allowed to enter this area to take photos,” an emphatic Phuket airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam has claimed.  He issued further warnings: no drones, no shining lights, quite frankly nothing at all to distract incoming planes, would be tolerated.  Violating the provisions of the Air Navigation Act was a matter, quite literally, of death.  “The maximum penalty is the death sentence.”  Distractive idiocy, the authorities in Phuket suggest, is no excuse.

Reluctant Soldier, Confused Peacenik

Bowe Bergdahl captured the American imagination in 2009 when he disappeared from what had become his living hell. His battalion commander, Lt Baker, was not only an obnoxious tyrant (handing out Field-Grade Article 15s, just short of a court martial, supposedly for being out of uniform, but in fact for complaining about the mission to a Guardian photo-journalist in a video broadcast), but he had ordered them to build the OB (observation post) Mest on a cemetery, defiling, even defecating on gravestones near the FOB (forward operating base) Sharana.

He was as much a victim of the latest American COIN (counterintelligence) strategy as a deserter. Taken captive by the enemy (Taliban) under the protection of an ally (Pakistan), embodying the self-enforcing illogic of the entire war.

The FOB’s OP (army talk is littered with acronyms and abbreviations, quickly reducing any text or conversation to gobbledygook) would transfer authority to Afghan troops operate under US troops, the idea being to eventually leave the Afghans in sole charge. They would establish security, identify the Taliban, separate them from the local population, show the villagers they were better off with Karzai and the Americans in charge. Abracadabra. The Taliban would just disappear, as they very well ought to.

But it’s not the Taliban who have disappeared. Between 2006 and 2014, 20,000 soldiers have deserted from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001 the army pressed charges against less than 2,000, half pleaded guilty, 78 were tried and convicted. That pales in comparison to more than half a million Vietnam draft resisters/ deserters from 1966 to 1973. Desertion is as American as apple pie.

Bergdahl’s 4 weeks of hell sent him over the edge. He forgot the most important rule about the army. Don’t think. Just obey orders. Your superior is always right. It’s not clear what exactly B decided he was going to do, but he snuck away in the night, careful not to be noticed and headed for … hmmm. I guess he hadn’t really decided anything other than giving himself over to the Taliban, which was pretty easy. Hours after dawn, the word got out and Taliban equivalent of UPS picked up their load and whisked him across the border into FATA (federal administrative tribal areas) in Pakistan, just out of reach of the US army.1

Domino or butterfly effect?

His desertion (he eventually ignored his defence lawyer and pleaded guilty) set in motion a domino effect on a massive scale, but not the one the prosecution tried to pin on him: that B’s desertion led to soldiers’ deaths. The early angry accusations soon melted under examination, leaving B’s actions as a butterfly effect in a chaotic world.

Even his hated superior Baker later admitted that DUSTWUN (missing soldier alert), while difficult, had also produced some of the greatest disruptions of Taliban networks that he had seen at any point during the war. Commanders in the field used the search for Bergdahl as a justification for more aggressive tactics to achieve stability in the area.

It was a great way to motivate troops — rescuing a soldier was more ‘fun’ that just terrorizing hostile Afghans. It was a real mission, not the phony one they would be doing otherwise. “Everyone knew it was going on.”

Baker sounds like a real SOB (making all the troops shave 6 times in a row because one missed a stray hair, screaming two inches from their faces). Insisting the OB be built on a cemetery and desecrating graves set off an alarm in B’s mind. Afghan soldiers were known to turn their guns on their American comrades for less. But, what the hell, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,2 Afghanistan is FUBAR.3

In American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan, Farwell and Ames don’t need any purple prose. Hard facts do the trick. For instance, in 2007 a soldier in B’s 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, 1/501, Evan Vela, killed an unarmed captive Iraqi on orders from his superior, staff sergeant Hensley. He was court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years. Rather than murder, Henley was acquitted, charged only with a minor infraction.

It would be hard to beat Sergeant Robert Bales who slipped off base in Kandahar twice in one night in 2012 and shot 16 civilians in their homes in front of their families. At least he got life. It’s a miracle that B’s handlers didn’t string him up in response when they heard of this.

B enlists in 2008  and he is deployed in May 2009. At the end of training (Fort Richardson, Alaska), Command Sergeant Major Wolfe told them: I know you all joined because you want to rape, pillage and kill. That’s why I joined. But you need to think about COIN, winning over local farmers, merchants, drivers.

The training screams of cognitive dissonance. During training, they would chant ‘trained to kill, kill we will.’ Sex assaults and rapes were rampant at Fort Richardson.

FOB Sharana was built on a Soviet base. A/C barracks, dvd players, internet, lots of video games, hot showers, porcelain toilets, a basketball court, coffee shops, as much food as they wanted any time. But a strict dress code and shaving regime. Logistics brought in steak and lobster dinners for officers.

B’s one mission was in an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle, sent to retrieve an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team’s truck but the mountain road was too narrow, they hit an IED (improvised explosive device), another vehicle was disabled, they came under Taliban fire, and were saved by air support.

What should have been a few hours to retrieve a damaged truck had become a week-long ordeal. And to top it off, Baker glared at them when they returned. “What, you couldn’t shave?”

B’s instincts were right.  He and his only real friend, Joseph Coe ate dinner with the Afghan soldiers up the hill most evenings. Coe grew up in a missionary family in the highlands of Venezuela, and refused to be party to Bergdahl’s later vilification by his fellow soldiers. B and Coe realized befriending the Afghans was the right thing to do, and a commonsense precaution against ‘green on blue’ (Afghan soldier/ police killing Americans). The Afghan soldiers were friendly and welcomed them. The soldiers never learned their names, nicknaming them ‘ice cream’, ‘crazy eyes’. They called their translators John or Jack.

Bergdahl respected the Afghans, realized the occupiers had to respect their culture, i.e., the cemetery. Eating with the Afghans was like having a meal with his neighbours on the prairies in Idaho, Peruvian Quechua shepherds. He didn’t want to die fighting them, when he knew they were in the right. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

What he was supposed to do for the next two years had nothing to do with helping them. So he put his fate in their hands. He knew he would survive. His rash, quixotic decision became an important symbolic gesture pointing to the way out of this latest imperial deadend.

Behind the scenes, there are human terrain teams (anthropologists), provincial reconstruction teams (a hydra of military, state department and USAID NGOs), tactical human intelligence teams (liquor and porn as bribes). The disconnect with the ‘kill we will’ foot soldiers, the face of the occupiers to most Afghan, makes their existence meaningless.

B lasted a month before he wrote a scathing email to his folks:

We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them […] I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.

Then left his weapon and night vision goggles on his neatly made cot, and fled to the arms of the Taliban.

Peace on Earth

B’s captors immediately offered a deal: 25 Taliban prisoners and $9m. The offer was rejected without any attempt to negotiate. The Taliban continued to offer a deal but the mantra from Bush and Obama was ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists.’

There were over 100 kidnappings from 2001–11, mostly journalists and missionaries. All were released with a quiet negotiations and a ransom. B was a test case for both sides, as a prisoner exchange would give the Taliban de facto recognition. It wasn’t the puppet Karzai/ Ghani but the US president negotiating with the Taliban.

The authors dismiss the possibility that Bergdahl might have converted to Islam, that his anti-imperialist lecture, delivered on Christmas day 2009  courtesy of his captors and social media, was surely just a forced confession, though it was quite articulate, not “absurd”, as Farwell and Ames state.  He mentions the indignities suffered by Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons around the world, “but the Taliban treated me as human being with dignity. Aren’t our leaders simply the puppets of the lobbies that pay for their election campaigns?”

He (or rather his Taliban minders) refer to Veterans for Peace activist and ex-Marine Matthew Hoh, who resigned from his  foreign service posting in Kabul interview, and in an interview with CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer in November 2009 read from his resignation letter: American combat troops are not defeating al-qaeda by their presence in Afghanistan. All they are doing is just fighting people who are fighting us because we’re occupying them.

B’s testimony “grows more dogmatic–and more absurd.” Come on! Give the Taliban at least an A for crafting a coherent agitprop video showing MRAPs, dead ISAF soldiers, a video of an improvised IED. Ok, “We have forced them to strap large amounts of explosives to their precious bodies, to leave their homes and children to kill us.” — is a bit over the top. But it’s a lot closer to the truth than the US version of events.

A few days after B’s bombshell, CIA agent Hamam al-Balawi blew himself and his US minders up at the CIA base in nearby Khost, leaving behind his martyr video. Both Bs were under the direction of the Haqqani network,4 with the knowledge (and help) of Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-services Intelligence). For newly arrived Major General Michael Flynn, director of intelligence for NATO’s ISAF coalition, not a Christmas to remember.

B became a lightning rod for the increasing frustration over this unending war. Fox news interviewed spy novelist and  retired lt col Ralph Peters:

This private is a liar. We’re not sure if he’s a deserter. Collaborating with the enemy. The Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.

Whew! Carte blanche to slice B’s head off. The interview was censored, but only for fear it served the Taliban. Flynn called him a jihadi. 23 veteran Congressmen published an open letter reminding McCain and others that they made statements contrary to their beliefs to stay alive.

B’s mother: the Taliban was now a part of our family

After years of stonewalling, B’s father Bob realized the government was incapable of diplomacy and he decided to go to Pakistan to give himself in exchange for his son. He used twitter, quoting from the Koran, with a message of radical peace. He travelled to visit a mosque in Washington, where the imam taught him to pray. He wore a kufi and grew his beard, knowing that the Taliban would see him on social media, trying to appeal to the Pashtun values and customs. B’s mother Jani told him, “the Taliban was now a part of our family.”

He talked with his pastor about overlaps between Calvinism and Islam. He realized peace would only come by understanding the men who held his son. Without peace, his son would never come home. The Bergdahls respected, embraced the enemy. The Christological overtones are everywhere. B’s 40 days in the wilderness, suffering for our sins, resurrection from the dead, love thine enemy …

For Bob and Jani, their prayers were answered. Obama had to wrap this up, and though he should have got Congressional approval, he just quietly released ‘the Taliban 5’ to Qatar and sent a SEAL rescue team to scoop up B, filmed by his captors for the world to see. Obama “broke the law by not informing Congress,” fumed Republican House Armed Services Committee Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon.

Obama was getting his own back. He had vowed in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo and had been shafted. Convincing him was Holbrooke’s adviser Barney Rubin who reminded Obama that of the 5 Taliban, 3 had surrendered, 2 were detained after they showed up for appointments saying they wanted to help us.

Vietnam

No doubt others who were traumatized by the war in Afghanistan will find healing as have the Bergdahls, by acknowledging the guilt of being part of this invasion and destruction of a country and its people. This happened — is still happening — after the liberation of Vietnam.

One of many Vietnam vets who have returned to Vietnam looking for closure, Chuck Searcy moved to Vietnam in 1995 as representative of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and helped launch Project RENEW in Quang Tri Province, to clean up UXO (unexploded ordnance) and provide medical assistance, rehabilitation, and income generation for UXO victims. Like Hoh, Searcy is active in Veterans For Peace, based in Vietnam. In 2003 Searcy was awarded Vietnam’s National Friendship Medal.

Bergdahl hoped to cause an emergency, a Goliath moment which would give him the chance to bring his commanding officer Baker’s leadership failures to light, to steer the US intervention towards the truth. A DUSTWUN was the most powerful weapon B had.

The day after he shipped his things home, he sent an email from Sharana to a group of friends in Idaho quoting Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt:

It is not the being of value who fails the system. It is the system that has failed the man. The system should be remade to fit the man who holds value as worth.

B aimed to bring the gears of system to a halt, his own personal (nonviolent) 9/11, and remake it.

It worked, sort of. When the dust finally settled, Bowe was handed a dishonorable discharge (instead of life), and a few pay deductions, but awarded two good conduct medals for service in captivity. Even Trump had stopped calling for his execution, and started negotiating with the Taliban, which is exactly what Bergdahl’s very brave, but also very risky, act was all about.

In a March 1, 2019 interview on C-Span, ex-Marine and foreign service official Matthew Hoh makes the point that the war actually began in 1973 with the overthrow of the king. He doesn’t make the point that the logical secular trajectory led to socialism, nor does he point to the US arming and supporting the Islamists as the real crime.

But Bergdahl’s trajectory is the logical one today — looking to the enemy for an answer. Whether or not Bowe took the shuhada and became a Muslim, his reaching out to the Taliban and his father and mother’s realization that “the Taliban are part of our family,” says it all.

An earlier version of B’s monkey-wrench-into-the-killer-machine, during the Vietnam war, is Christopher Boyce,  who worked for the National Reconnaissance Office in the 1970s, and discovered the CIA were deposing Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australia for wanting to close US military bases and withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam. Boyce saw that the CIA was undermining not just Australia but other democratic, industrialized allies. Boyce figured the press was useless. The media’s earlier disclosure of CIA involvement in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état had not changed anything for the better.

If he was going to make a splash, he’d have to turn to the ‘enemy’. Then, it was the Soviet Union. Despite his solidly conservative upbringing, he, like B, came to realize that the ‘enemy’ was almost by definition the ‘good guy’. His crossing the line and spying for the Soviet Union was much like B’s — very risky, harrowing, to say the least, life-changing.

He spent 25 years in prison as penance, and now lives quietly in Oregon, not so far from the Bergdahls. Another gripping story of defying the empire and living to tell the tale.

Now if only Boyce’s wildly idealistic expose had saved Whitlam and brought down US imperialism back in the 1970s. Or at least if we could rewind our tape to 1979, and see the Soviet Union and its attempt to shore up the faltering secular socialist government in Afghanistan, as “part of our family”, to be embraced, not vilified and destroyed. If only our present was the counterfactual history, not the peaceful, secular Afghanistan of yore.

Boyce and Bergdahl sensed who the real enemy is. They aimed for Goliath’s eye with their stone and hit it, but to no avail. Boyce’s logic pointed to socialism. Bergdahl’s saga points to Islam. The best thing in the 1970s was to make peace with the Soviet Union, not to destroy it. Now, it is for the US to embrace Islam’s message of peace. There Is No Alternative.

  1. There are at least four spying agencies all at cross-purposes. The oldest the army’s, which was supposed to close when the CIA was created but secretly kept working. Under the army was also a special unofficial service which carried out very secret things like Iran-contra. Then there’s the FBI, responsible for any American in a non-combat country. Also the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). All had their claim to Bergdahl. The search for Bergdahl was as much a war between the CIA (secretly allowed to do things in Pakistan) against the army’s spymasters, the FBI and the DEA. The army ‘won’. Sort of.
  2. Army jargon for WTF (what the f&#k)
  3. ‘Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.’
  4. Jalaluddin Haqqani, who visited the Reagan White House and was once described by Texas politician Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.”

Call of Duty: Resisting War in Venezuela

Every war is a war against children.

— Egalntyne Jebb, founder Save the Children a century ago.

Responding to the British post-war blockade of Germany and Eastern Europe, Jebb participated in a group attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to children who were starving.

In London’s Trafalgar Square, she distributed a leaflet showing the emaciated children and declaring:

Our blockade has caused this, – millions of children are starving to death.

She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined. But the judge in the case was moved by her commitment to children and paid her fine. His generosity was Save the Children’s first donation. Source: Kathy Kelly

****

This vet for peace has made a life duty to a simple call to action —  Hands Off Venezuela. Imagine the same call in 1960 —  Hands Off Vietnam; or in 1970 —  Hands Off Chile; or in 1991 —  Hands Off Haiti; Hands Off Puerto Rico 140 years ago.

Those ham-fisted, Imperial-seeped and Monroe Doctrine-primed hands are ours, Uncle Sam’s.

There are resisters to this global hyper power disease that we have been infected with in America that professes a USA-rules-the-world mentality. Dan Shea is that Vietnam Veteran for Peace. He puts his actions where his mouth is.

Rewind the tape 13 years, and we see Dan as a Veterans for Peace organizer  working on the city of Portland becoming a sanctuary city for soldiers AWOL from the armed services who were inserted into Iraq and Afghanistan illegally.

“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Portland and the City Council to support the soldiers who are coming back and their right to speak out,” said Dan Shea of Veterans for Peace, who first proposed the idea.

Shea told an interviewer in 2006 he had enlisted with the Marines and spent most of 1968 in Vietnam, where he was exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange. That resulted in his diabetes, he said.

Shea professes he never supported the Vietnam War, yet like many boys and men (girls and women) back then – especially high school drop-outs — he felt obligated to serve. However, when he came home, he felt betrayed by the country, saying the initial reasons for going to war were nothing but lies. The same thing is going on today, he said.

Over the years of our illegal incursion into Iraq, destroying the country and killing a million or more, and then our longest war, Afghanistan, Shea has talked to veterans who can no longer support the war because of what they participated in or witnessed. “These are people of conscience,” he said. “They served for what is the best of our country — the ability to speak out — and now they are being persecuted for that.”

Shea has had a long history with Central America, and Latin America in general. He went to Venezuela in 2006 and met Hugo Chavez. He also has been to Nicaragua to meet with the revolutionary government and actors in that country which overthrew a despotic dictator, Somoza, who was a puppet of the United States.

Fast-forward to the current debacle of the US and its vassal states and even the supposedly “independent” EU countries  pushing for a violent overthrow of the Chavismo Nicolas Maduro. Shea has just returned from Venezuela on a fact-finding trip that included embracing the Venezuelan people.

Dan and I talked about how that arc of social justice and the golden rule, if indeed true, would have “saved” the world from war and injustice a long time ago. Unfortunately, the boomerang of the capitalists and lords of war continues to cut down movements and countries wanting no more of the insanity of “the endless war on terror” mentality Bush and his neocons (supported by Obama) promulgated.

How can we ever forget Mark Twain’s anti-imperial words in regard to his time and historically the crime of war:

There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one–on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful–as usual–will shout for the war. The pulpit will–warily and cautiously–object–at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ‘It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.’ Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers–as earlier–but do not dare say so.

And now the whole nation–pulpit and all–will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”

― Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories

For 70-year-old Shea, that grotesque self-deception is what now emanates from the very pores of Trump’s regime, from the profiteers of war, from the elite who want Venezuela for their profits, and from the Democrats – the supposed opposition party – who believe America is the great white hope that should be meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.

That moniker, Vietnam vet for peace, speaks to Daniel Shea’s persuasive and holistic approach to life, and he’s  not easily dissuaded by the long arm of capitalism’s systems of oppression which create mayhem through social and cultural injustice he’s experienced in his 70 years on planet earth. He’s a former Marine who had been deployed to Vietnam in 1968.

He did not see himself engaging in the tradition of military service so many in this country seem compelled by — especially civilians like Donald Trump, who not only actively got out of military service during the Vietnam War, but also has been quoted many times deriding vets who went to war, calling them “losers.”

That call of duty, Shea told me, was predicated on being stuck in a hard labor job in Portland, Oregon, and the reality that his draft number would be called up anyway.

He wasn’t a supporter of the war, but he said he just went in to “just get it over with.”

“I did not support the war,” he told me. “I knew the minute I stepped into boot camp that it (military life) was not for me.”

Heck, he went AWOL before being sent to Vietnam – “We went out drinking, and we ended up showing up late to our duty station.” Hard drinking because he and his band of brothers didn’t know if they were going to live or die once in-country. For their human sanity wanting to drown out the reality of possible pending early grisly deaths – it’s a normal emotion and psychological state to resist death, one’s own death – Shea and the others were thrown into the brig.

This story begins in reverse, with Venezuela March 2019, but without a narrative context, few would know why the Portland, Oregon chapter president of Veterans for Peace just returned from Venezuela as part of a big delegation to meet with the people of that country, the people in the streets, in government, in the media and just the regular Jose and Josefina in an effort by this peace delegation to carry forth on some real ground truthing.

“We were on a mission, to listen, to observe, and to attempt to assess the root causes of opposition grievances and whether there might be avenues for talks to address their concerns and find compromises and produce a peace to the advantage of all concerned,” Shea told me. Obviously, the delegation was not blinded by the media lies and the Trump Administration’s propaganda war and the opposition party’s back-stepping.

The right for Venezuelans to determine their futures was always at the forefront of Shea’s and the others’ minds during this delegation. Nicolas Maduro was elected as the leader of the country, and this largely unknown puppet – hand-picked by the Trump people and his same old usual suspects of neocons, going way back, gleaned from the dirty wars of Central America and international felons (like Elliot Abrams) — Juan Guaido is as legitimate to Venezuelans to lead their country as is Donald Duck or Elvis Presley.

“Our main mission was to express our Solidarity with COSI – Venezuela — Committee of International Solidarity and Struggle for Peace.” Shea went with folks like Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Co-chairs of Popular Resistance.

Other heavy hitters included Ajamu Baraka, Black Alliance for Peace and 2016 VP running mate of Jill Stein; Joe Lombardo, co-coordinator United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC); Gerry Condon, President of VFP; Sarah Martin, Anti-War Committee; Miguel Figueroa, President Canadian Peace Congress; Eva Bartlett, fearless Canadian freelance journalist; and others.

Dan and I cleared the air early on in our interview: I asked him what makes 2019 and Venezuela different than all the other times US presidents/ administrations have taken that which was not theirs to take, who murdered those who resisted and, then who set forth imperial overreach to subjugate people and societies through generation after generation.

“Same old story, nothing has changed – Capitalism is at the root cause of targeting Venezuela. The country’s oil is the price, and the US Corporate Masters will use any means necessary including war,” Shea told me. “They are willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people in order to secure oil for the United States. This was pretty much publicly stated by John Bolton to FOX News in which he said that United States would benefit economically from access to Venezuelan oil.”

Yet we are in an era of cognitive dissonance, distraction and delusional thinking, where the corporate mass media drive a false narrative that supports regime change and resource plunder while the uninitiated public is bombarded with the meaningless of social media feeds and popular lobotomizing culture. Or as Twain describes the US public’s myopic masses as that “great, big, dull bulk of the nation.”

The trip this past March was righteous and part of Shea’s vow of non-violence and weeding out the lies of the very country he went to war for. The trauma of combat was real for him as an 18-year-old in Indochina, but he made it clear to me that it was “the moral injury of realizing I was part of a killing machine that resulted in four to six million people killed and still many more effected by the health effects of Agent Orange.”

He tells me that when he first returned from “his war,” via the Philippines, he like many Vietnam vets was reluctant to self-examine with friends, family or the public: “I just didn’t want to talk war, about Vietnam, or anything associated with the military.”

He slogged ahead, used the GI Bill to enroll in community college in Portland. He got married with his first child on the way. He and his wife were living in an apartment, and got their first house soon thereafter.  Shea began his political development – or we could call it a series of enlightenments — during this period. Then his wife Arlene became pregnant. “This news was received with great joy as I always wanted to have children. We began a series of healthcare classes for pregnant women studying natural birth alternatives, and regular visits to the doctor to make sure Arlene was getting all the nutrients she needed during her pregnancy.”

Lamaze classes, and then the birth of Casey in 1977.  When Arlene’s water broke, the couple was extremely excited. It was a tough labor,  “I think it was about 10 hours and our doctor was a longtime family doctor by the name of Doctor Miracle . . .  how could you go wrong with a doctor named miracle?”

Shea was present at the birth and vividly recalls the doctors rushing his son to the side and then the medical team whispering, eventually stating there were some health concerns with Casey.

“Casey had a seizure and had to be rushed up to the NICU at Doernbecher Neonatal Unit Children’s Hospital. We learned our son had been born with a cleft palate, congenital heart disease and other abnormalities.”

Lots of tears, but Shea and his family were able to celebrate the miracle child, and then a year later, they had a second child, Harmony. Shea learned that the birth anomalies of his son were related to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. In 1981, their son at the age of three passed away, after seven weeks in a coma from a failed heart surgery.

I’ve worked with veterans who have a grief so painful and so deep tied to the trauma of Vietnam and the battle scars and the inhumanity of napalm dousing villages and carpet-bombing cities. However, the other story to the trauma is both tied to their own failing health and especially all the birth defects of offspring.  “I didn’t even want to live but the love of my wife and my daughter kept me grounded. Additionally, I came to see that my story — my loss — was just one out of millions of lives and all those children in Vietnam who would have been exposed to Agent Orange or who had been killed by our bullets and bombs.”

Out of the personal and historical pain, Shea began to “take a strong and deliberate opposition” to all wars and all military interventions. He dug deep into what the idea of how War and Peace had been so at odds in this Indian-killing country. He was attempting to understand how both civilians and military leaders could see it as “honorable to send their children to foreign shores to kill other children.”

I too have questioned our militarism with a military father who was in uniform for 32 years. Shea has wondered what mechanisms are in place and what sorts of psychological blind-spots would possess working class folks to be part of a deliberate military invasion of another nation to kill other working class families, including innocent men, women, children and even infants.

I still remember Muhammad Ali’s words when I was 10 years old and my father was a regular army officer in Vietnam:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? (February, 17, 1966)

I continually remind people that Trump is a bad hombre in the sense he has a cadre of lawyers and some in criminal enterprises working for him and for whom he works. Bad hombre in the sense Trump has narcissistic personality disorder and believes he is the right hand of god even as he lives, breathes and dreams the way of Satan in the Bible he so publicly reveres.  Bad hombre in the sense Trump is a physically inept bully who encourages racism, white nationalism, misanthropy and blind allegiance to the red white blue and Benjamin’s.

I’ve been around real bad hombres, literally, people who slit the throats of their enemies, people who have no compunction fighting mano y mano to the death, yet these people in the drug dealing world and others I have met as a journalist and then some who I worked with as incarcerated folk have more humanity in their pinky fingers than a Trump and his Klan could ever hope for.

Yet, this country has gone downhill since its first slave holder president, George Washington, who stole from his own soldiers, relished killing the Mohawks for land they wouldn’t sell, and proceeded to break every treaty with the First Nations people.

Things have only gotten worse since Cherry-tree Cutting George took the helm.

Dan Shea: “You’re right this began before Trump. The same faces we saw involved in Central America in the 1980s are now pushing Trump to continue on this path. Those faces of course are John Bolton and Elliott Abrams as well as probably a number of other right-wing Republican capitalist anti-communist propagandists. Besides wanting other countries’ resources, they cannot stand to have examples in the world where socialism trumps Capitalism. This just might give people ideas . . .  and that’s dangerous for those in power who are raping the Earth of its resources polluting, our oceans.”

Mini Q & A:

Paul Haeder: What did the people of Venezuela leave you with?

Dan Shea:  Funny you should ask that question because after visiting with President Maduro, there was a press conference held outside the Presidential Palace and I said it’s my turn to speak. Told them I was born in the United States, but my father was from Panama as well as my grandmother so I have roots one foot in the US and one foot in Panama as well as Central America, but my heart is in Venezuela —  with all of you.

You might ask why I feel that way and I would answer because I have seen the tenacity of a people to stand up against one of the most powerful nations on Earth. Venezuelans have refused to accept United States in their bulling attempts and threats to overthrow their elected president and surrender their oil. This is basically the real interest of the United States and their corporate masters — OIL!

PH: What do you suggest people in the US — who do not want to interfere with the Venezuelan elections and people’s right to their own self-determination and the current legitimate government’s right to move forward — DO to affect change?

DS: Organize, organize, organize. Join any number of groups opposed to war, opposed to interventions. Be involved in mass demonstrations in Washington DC, say no to NATO, say no to war and racism, and demand Hands Off Venezuela.

If you’re a veteran, join Veterans For Peace, become a part of the solution not the problem. If you are a soldier currently in the military, VFP encourages you to resist illegal orders of invading a country that has been no threat to the United States. Refuse to deploy, refuse to continue serving in the military by becoming a conscientious objector. If you wish to battle injustice, totalitarianism, dictatorships then start here at home in the ‘belly of the beast’ and resist war, violence and help us build a massive Antiwar and Peace Movement.

PH: Discuss what you learned about this bizarre gambit Trump and the other pols are creating in the international press from the Venezuelan people’s perspective.

DS:  Most of the stuff coming from the US is lies, exaggerations and cherry-picked statistics to suit their narrative. Such as hyperinflation, and the lack of food and goods for sale because of shortages, but Trump and the media fail to tell you how US sanctions are creating that crisis.

PH: Notable moments there.

DS:  You have to maintain some sense of humor even under the dark cloud of war. Thus, Guaido has become joke. In a press conference in Venezuela, I felt it necessary to inject a little humor by declaring myself President of the United States. If Juan Guaido can declare himself president of Venezuela, then why can’t I declare myself the president of the United States.

*****

We talked about how things have changed since the anti-war and pro-civil rights movements in the country in the 1960s. Maybe that was a flashpoint moment, which led the copulating forces of the US government and corporations to entrench themselves deeper and deeper into anti-democratic methods of suppressing the masses, or even stopping targeted movements and campaigns.

Not many Americans who want change are willing to face jail and employment termination. Upton Sinclair stated it almost a century ago:

I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime,  I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policeman with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country.

— Letter to the Louis D. Oaks, Los Angeles Chief of Police, 17 May 1923

We are today deeper in a time of dumb-downing, largely because we have sold our souls and our brawn and intellectual mettle to the corporation. We have variations now on this theme that Sinclair and H.L. Mencken toyed with:

  • Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.
  • It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
  • It can be very hard to understand something, when misunderstanding it is essential to your paycheck.
  • It is rather pointless to argue with a man whose paycheck depends upon not knowing the right answer.

For Dan Shea, he has great hope for and in the young people today, who are understanding putting truth to power and are training their minds to not only not accept war as inevitable, but also to train themselves to accept the very proposition that socialism is the only way to stop the madness. “They understand this perverse Orwellian language such as ‘preemptive war,’ or how politicians and generals call mass murder ‘collateral damage.’ To repeat, I see the people of Venezuela standing up against one of the most powerful countries in the world.”

He ends the interview with an allusion, deploying Albert Camus: The Greek myth has Sisyphus condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. For Camus, life is absurd and meaningless, as we see with Sisyphus, yet, “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

“I guess the gods would forgive him once Sisyphus pushes the boulder up the hill, but each time he pushes the stone up the hill, he is defying the system. I feel free knowing I too can defy the system.”

Southeast Asia Terribly Damaged but Lauded by West

Come to Southeast Asia and enjoy beaches, cheap sex and raunchy massage parlors. Hang around this part of the world in whichever way you like; wearing flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts. You were told that ‘everything is easy here, that things are cheap and people are friendly and happy’. Do what you want, as almost everything is allowed, especially if you are from the West, and have plenty of cash and some credit cards in your pockets.

That’s what your simplified perception of Southeast Asia is supposed to be. This stereotype has been created, refined and fine-tuned, then finally hammered into the subconscious of the people in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan. It has been done consistently, for many years and decades, until these lies, repeated a thousand times, have replaced reality. As a result, tens of millions of holiday-makers, sexual tourists, adventurers and single men on power trips, descend on Southeast Asia, annually. Most of them do not see anything, and they do not hear. Most of them leave for home after getting suntanned, a bit fatter, and much more confident. They come with clearly formed ideas, and they leave without learning much.

Most of the ‘visitors’ do not want to be disturbed by reality, because the reality could be extremely unsavory, even horrifying.

The ‘hidden’ and extremely uncomfortable truth is: most of Southeast Asia is actually absolutely unfit for tourism. It is deeply, and terribly injured, even, a broken part of the world which has never been allowed to leave its brutal, feudal system behind.

Its people are barely surviving in the straight-jacket of extreme capitalism. All sorts of imported rubbish, from brainless pop music to the lowest grade of Hollywood films, junk food, mass media and ‘fashion’ as well as ‘me-me-me habits’ have been put to work in order to irreversibly ruin their traditional cultures. Generally, people here are unhappy; often thoroughly confused. Societies from Thailand to Indonesia and the Philippines are becoming increasingly violent. At the same time, the politically ‘pacified’ population does not rebel against the rulers in the West or its own servile elites: right-wing political and religious extremism are often the only ‘answers’ to popular outrage.

The land of Southeast Asia is devastated, as it is nowhere else on our planet; in fact, it has been totally plundered by unbridled mining, logging, palm oil and rubber plantations. The extraction of natural resources is done in a monstrous fashion; often by poisoning rivers with mercury, by cutting most of the primary forests down or by flattening entire mountains. From an airplane, places like the island of Borneo or Peninsular Malaysia appear as nothing less than hell on earth.

This vast part of the world with a total population of around 650 million, does not count on any renowned thinkers or scientists, and with the exception of Vietnam (which is Communist and therefore to a greater degree different) on even one single globally renowned writer or a film director.

All this is not supposed to be discussed ‘like this’; in this fashion. Writers and filmmakers, local and foreign both, are discouraged from describing and documenting what is right in front of their own eyes.

But why? How come that Southeast Asia has managed to escape almost entirely all the scrutiny by the Western mainstream media?

Half-wreck of Southeast Asia

It is because what I have just described above is nothing else other than a result of the monstrous mass murder, plunder and destruction, which has been perpetrated by the West. It has been happening all over here; in all corners of Southeast Asia. The destruction has been so appalling and frightening, that almost no liberals in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Canberra or Washington are willing to acknowledge it, instead sticking to bizarre clichés and glorification of the state to which the victims have been reduced to; in which they are forced to live.

Entire teams of academics, notably those at the Australian National University (ANU), but also at several other institutions, continuously repeat the official Western dogma, which describes Indonesia as ‘a normal country’.

But isn’t this what the so-called Western ‘political correctness’ is all about? Doesn’t it work like this: “A country is attacked, left-wing government gets overthrown, corrupt leaders put on thrones; then natural resources get plundered, and extreme right-wing ‘elites’ fully subservient to the West quickly steal everything from their country and people, while dutifully sharing the booty with Western corporations. The population gets indoctrinated, totally brainwashed and the opposition either murdered or scared into submission. And then, and then, the West ‘shows great respect’ for that local ‘culture’ and for ‘local people’. Read: respect for its own Frankenstein; for its own creations.

It goes without saying that this gangrenous monster which the West first created and then ordered everyone to ‘respect’, has nothing to do with the culture and ‘the people’.

In the end, the victims themselves, get methodically conditioned with tools such as mass media, ‘education’, and continuous propaganda dispensed by the political regime. They stop being aware of their own conditions. They become resigned.They become religious, submissive. They blame and fight each other, but never the true oppressors; never the regime.

The victims often feel they are not well, but they have no idea, why?

*****

For centuries, Southeast Asia suffered terribly at the hands of the French, Dutch, US and British colonizers. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the US forces brutally massacred around 1 million Filipinos, in their Asian colony.

Official independence from European and North American colonial masters did not stop the suffering of the people.

After WWII, no other part of the world endured more Western massacres and terror than Southeast Asia. Not even Africa, the Middle East or Latin America. The numbers are truly striking.

The West’s lovely ‘holiday destinations’ inhabited by ‘friendly locals’, were carpet-bombed, and poisoned by chemical weapons. Millions of people were slaughtered; by injected military regimes, by monarchs, by elites and military juntas. Not unlike in Latin America, but with numbers astronomically higher, because the West never considered Asian people to be equal human beings (For instance: around 2 million Indonesians were slaughtered during the 1965 military coup of General Suharto. The coup perpetrated by General Pinochet in Chile, in 1973, took lives of 2-3 thousand people. Adjusted to the numbers of people living in both countries, Indonesia still lost approximately ten times more people than Chile).

Everyone knows about the suffering of Vietnam, under French brutal colonial rule, and then, during the terrorist war unleashed against the country by the US and its allies. But no one really knows, precisely, how many Vietnamese people died. The number of victims goes in to millions. At least 4 million Vietnamese citizens vanished.

 

Laos and the so-called ‘side-kick’ or ‘Secret War’ was even worse, on a per capita basis. Hundreds of thousands vanished in this sparsely populated country, which is inhabited by humble and gentle people. Strategic B-52 bombers were deployed against farmers and their water buffalos, using evil cluster bombs that are, to this day, killing thousands, all over the Laotian countryside. There was no reason for this brutal, monstrous genocide, except some abstract ‘concern’ in Washington that this poor nation could follow Vietnam’s example and ‘go Communist’ (it did, after it tasted true Western ‘democracy’, literally on its skin).

Cambodia – a country where the West nurtured corrupt and brutal elites in Phnom Penh, and then began the same monstrous carpet-bombing campaign as in Laos, against unarmed, desperately poor peasants, using B-52s, killing hundreds of thousands, and displacing millions. People lost their minds from the horrors of the bombing. They were also driven from their land, and began dying from famine. Dismal situation opened doors to Khmer Rouge, which the US decisively supported (on the battlefield and at the UN), even after this deranged murderous group got defeated by heroic Communist forces of Vietnam.

Thailand – country which has been choked by car industry and monstrous form of extreme capitalism, while upholding its backward feudal system. Thailand with countless military coups designed to sustain pro-Western monarchy. Thailand, which accepted on its turf part of defeated Chinese anti-Communist army, and ‘put it to work ‘almost immediately’, allowing it to massacre substantial part of its own left-wing movements. Thai state that massacred and raped its own students, and butchering thousands of Cambodian refugees. Thailand that technically attacked both Vietnam and Laos, by flying Air America missions against those countries, opening its airports to the West, while selling its own women in countless brothels in Pattaya and elsewhere, to the Western pilots and ground staff.

Indonesia, where the 1965 US and UK -sponsored military coup against left-wing President Sukarno and (then) the third largest Communist Party in the world (PKI), took the lives of between 1 and 3 million people, installing perhaps the most grotesque fascist extreme-capitalist regime on earth. Indonesia, where all the great artists and thinkers were killed, or imprisoned in the Buru concentration camp, and, where the West helped to install a totally brainless system de-intellectualizing the nation and forcing it back to the Middle Ages. Indonesia, where secularism is now collapsing, and where, during the upcoming April 2019 elections, voters will decide between an inept and weak pro-capitalist leader, and a truly fascist military mass murderer.

East Timor (Timor Leste) – a tiny country which was overrun by Indonesia in 1975, shortly after it gained independence from Portugal, under the leadership of the left-wing FRETILIN movement. The right-wing dictator of Indonesia – Suharto – declared that he was ‘not going to tolerate a second Cuba near its shores’, and got a big pat on his back, as well as full support from the US, UK and Australia. The result: around 30% of the entire population of East Timor vanished during the occupation. Countless Indonesian leaders, including the former President ‘SBY’, served there. If Indonesia was a ‘normal country’, these individuals would now be facing long jail sentences for genocide, or in some cases, a firing squad.

In West Papua – hundreds of thousands of people have already died, also under the Indonesian genocidal occupation, which is fully supported by the West, because Papua, like Borneo (which is known in Indonesia as Kalimantan) is getting thoroughly plundered by multi-national companies, of course, under the careful supervision of Indonesian military forces. Horrors like the state-sponsored ‘trans-migration’ policy, designed to make people of Papua a minority on their own island, are ongoing and relentless. The people, who have lost everything under the occupation, are forced to convert to Islam, and they are also forced to abandon their way of life and their land. What Indonesia does in West Papua is nothing less than genocide. It is not only the killing and rape, of which its military could be accused of.

The plunder of Papuan resources is as deadly for many other reasons; it is like if the force would be used to ‘open up’ vast parts of the Amazonia or Orinoco basins in South America – areas inhabited by indigenous tribes that have never come in contact with the outside world. Even the most insane right-wing presidents of Brazil or Venezuela (of the past), would never dream about such brutal genocidal undertakings (although this may change under the fascist presidency of Bolsonaro in Brazil). In West Papua, dozens of fragile cultures are disappearing. People who have never come into contact with the ‘outside world’ are being forced out of their rainforest, as trees are cut down and mining companies, backed by the Indonesian armed forces, ransack the land. Defenseless tribal people are dying from diseases and hunger, at the same time as corrupt Indonesian officials and businessmen are burning money in Jakarta’s overprized malls, as well as in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong. And now, thousands of Western tourists fly into West Papua, to Raja Ampat, which is becoming an ‘in place’ for diving!

Malaysia had its own share of inter-religious conflicts, although never at the level of neighboring Indonesia. Nature in Malaysia, almost like in Indonesia, is totally devastated, due to massive palm oil plantations and mining.

The Philippines lived through horrific decades of US neo-colonialism, experiencing the similar extreme capitalism that has been imposed on Indonesia. Only in the recent years, sound social policies have been introduced, and a moratorium on mining, at least in some parts of the Mindanao Island, has been enforced.

Brunei, one of the richest exporters of oil on earth, is now governed by Sharia Law, which, at least in theory, allows amputations, flogging, stoning and other religious practices. Another place where such regressive brutality is officially allowed is in an autonomous province of Indonesia – Aceh.

*****

I worked in this apart of the world for decades. I covered countless horrors and conflicts in Indonesia. I used to live in Hanoi, and I covered in-depth the situation in Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Papua. I covered East Timor, during the occupation, and was tortured there by Indonesian forces. It happened after I exposed mass rape in Ermera town.

Right now, I am working on a detailed and shocking documentary film about the total environmental destruction of Borneo.

As a local (I actually feel like a ‘local’ in all parts of the world), I often look at the Western travelers visiting this part of the world, and I am wondering, sincerely: are they really so ignorant about the past and the present of Southeast Asia? Or perhaps, are they making sure not to know?

Are they ‘enjoying themselves’, surrounded by devastated nature, privatized and ruined beaches, and a deranged culture? Do they feel powerful, unique, superior, because their countries managed to destroy the entire Southeast Asia, bringing it into shameful submission? Is it, at least partially, why they are here?

Don’t they see? The Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok have become thoroughly grotesque: everything has been stolen along the coasts, people forced out of their dwellings, and the culture has been fully ruined. Bali suffers from traffic jams and pollution, from over-population, poverty and filth. There is hardly anything pristine there, now. ‘Culture’ is only for sale!

The coastline of Thailand is totally finished. The once pristine islands are now dotted with mass-produced, low quality market towns, with makeshift bungalows and ugly concrete structures. There are standardized, repetitive ‘offerings’, most of them of extremely low-quality. There are Thai and Western ‘beach food’, bad old (Western) pop music, countless massage parlors and ersatz bars. There is almost nothing truly Thai left on the Thai coastline. Thai women, the poorest of the poor, many from the north of the country, walk in flip-flops and tasteless T-shirts hand in hand with Western grandfathers, some of them in their 80’s. What a sight!

Everything feels ‘forced’, unnatural, and in terrible taste: in Indonesian ‘resorts’, on the Thai coast, and in the bars of the Philippines, as well as in Cambodia.

In and around Phnom Penh, ‘genocide tourism’ has reached its peak. It is fueled and sponsored by countless Western NGO’s, which are literally pimping the terrible Cambodian past as ‘proof’ that ‘Communism is evil’. Not a word about the fact that most of people who died here, were actually victims of the Western carpet-bombings and consequent famines, and that the Khmer Rouge was in reality a US-sponsored band of freaks, who knew very little about Communist ideology (I spent substantial time talking to them, deep in jungle, and most of them admitted that they had no clue about Marxism or Communism, when they were in power). But to the Westerners, genocide tourism is something thrilling, it represents ‘something new’; ‘something they did not experience before’. It is good for selfies and for colorful pub stories back at home. And Cambodia is now making huge money out of all this, willing to twist its own horrid past, just to gain some cash. Go to the villages and talk to people: they know the truth. But almost nobody goes. Not even the Western media.

The West has totally stolen historic narrative, all over Southeast Asia. Academia in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand is deeply influenced, and manipulated from abroad. ‘Soft power’ is being used; scholarships, funding and invitations to the ‘academic exchanges’.

Both the academic narrative and the mass media in Southeast Asia, are now much more “Westernized” than in the West itself.

*****

Clichés about this part of the world are mostly incorrect, in fact, surreal.

Despite the fact that it is suffering from the horrid religious intolerance, racism and perpetual conflicts and tensions, Indonesia is portrayed in the West as ‘tolerant’. Not having one single political party that would represent the majority (which is poor), it is branded as ‘democratic’. A place where a Chinese, black, white or Papuan person can hardly make few steps without being insulted on the street, or being mocked for his or her appearance, Indonesia is described by the Western mass media as ‘friendly’.

 

Artwork at BACC, before Thai election

Thailand is the same.  A staunch ally of the West during the so-called Vietnam War, and ‘fight against Communism’, the Kingdom is portrayed as ‘Land of Smiles’. In fact, it has higher homicide rate per capita than the United States, and more female tourists are raped here, annually, than in South Africa. Smiles are reserved only for those who are ready to pay any price, without demanding much in return. Any confrontation here can easily deteriorate to violence. The West hardly ever criticizes outrageous capitalist models of Thailand or Indonesia, as well as collapsed infrastructure and inhuman city planning that is prioritizing motor vehicles and ruthless real estate developers over people. Bangkok and Jakarta are much more polluted than the Chinese cities, and Thai and Indonesian governments do almost nothing to change the situation. But, cliché says that it is dangerous to go to Beijing due to the air quality, while Bangkok or Jakarta are hardly ever mentioned.

*****

In Southeast Asia, deafening noise is often administered, in order to silence fear. Thinking is discouraged. It is considered impolite to discuss, to face terrible past and the present. Brainless banging into the phones is recommended. Social media is used here much more than anywhere in the world. While some countries like Indonesia have the lowest readership of books on earth, per capita.

In Hanoi:  Monument to Western Atrocities

Southeast Asia had been living through genocides, coups, and total submission to the Western masters and to savage capitalism. It has been robbed of its nature, and of natural resources. Its population has been ‘pacified’, forced into obedience and submission. Extreme religious concepts have been injected and upheld from abroad. Only in the Philippines is the situation now gradually changing. In Vietnam, the state is still strongly resisting subversion from the West, although the country had also been damaged to a great degree, by Western NGOs and social media. Elsewhere, it is getting much worse.

Laos is now moving closer to China, which is literally pulling this beautiful and sparsely populated nation out of slumber, building a high speed rail system, infrastructure, factories, dams, schools and hospitals. But the more China does for Laos, the more it is demonized by the West, by its press, academia and the NGOs. It is now one big battle over Laos. However, it is clear that the Laotian people are benefiting greatly from their proximity to China, after being literally ruined by French colonialism and the Western “Secret Wars”.

On purpose, here, I don’t mention Burma, as there, the situation is extremely complex, and ‘specific’. But later this year, I expect to publish a detailed report on the topic.

*****

Southeast Asia is clearly a victim. It is also an ‘untold story’. Deep, dark story.

With the exception of Singapore and to some extent Malaysia, it is a devastated, an impoverished victim. It is also a ‘time bomb’. People here are discontent, often desperate. Often, they do not know why. Unlike in Latin America and Africa, where the political awareness of the victims is extremely high, here the victims often believe that they are treated justly and that ‘this is the only way how the society can be arranged and governed’.

If someone travels here, searching for ‘culture’ and ‘new ways to understand life’, they should think twice. In most of Southeast Asian countries, the local culture was thoroughly uprooted. What they will see are some folk shows for foreigners, hardly ever attended by locals. Most of the native music venues, as well as theatrical and other art forms, have been replaced by the most vulgar Western entertainment, by video games and naturally, by social media.

Western men often feel good here. It is because in Southeast Asia, ‘they have won’. They are often ‘respected’ here, just for being both men, and white. They are respected, the same way as the French, Dutch and British colonialists used to be respected here, a century ago. Not loved, not admired, but esteemed for belonging to the race and culture that managed to conquer, destroy and then to give orders.

In fact, for those who want to relive those days of imperialist ‘grandeur’, this is the perfect place to visit.

Naturally, Southeast Asia is glorified by the West, with the exception of the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos (and Burma, for different reasons) — countries that are trying to get away from Western dictates.

It is because this part of the world is ‘perfect’ in the eyes of rulers of the Empire. Here, human lives are freely sacrificed for the profits of corporations, both Western and local, like when a pedestrian here has to wait until the cars pass by; entire villages have to give way to the mining venues and to palm oil plantations. Social services for the citizens are not something secondary, but tertiary, almost irrelevant. Profit is all that matters. The well-being of the citizens is hardly considered.

The West is almost never criticized here. Like in any ‘good’ feudal society, the West is seen as a ‘daddy’. It is severe, but always right. It beats its ‘children’, but gives directions. Religions help to reinforce this sort of obedience, which in many other parts of the world would be synonymous with the Middle Ages.

The local ‘elites’, in the meantime, are ‘having a ball’. They govern unopposed. They are only accountable to the much bigger, mostly Western, power. They can do anything they want with their subjects. They drive their super expensive sedans and SUVs, purchased with funds stolen from the poor, and the poor bow, and bend, prostrating themselves in great respect, fear, servility and admiration.

And they do the same in front of the West.

In brief: perfect societies, observed from New York, Canberra, London or Paris.

And in Bali or Phuket, women dressed in traditional clothes dance in 5-star hotels, roll their big eyes, and twist their slender arms. In order for the foreign visitors to say: “What a great culture!” While, of course, the true great culture was killed by the military pro-Western regimes; choked and murdered in the concentration camps and inside the army barracks.

The only victims of this ‘perfect’ state of things, are the poor; in fact, the great majority in Southeast Asia (no matter what the official statistics say). But who really cares about them?

*****

Did most of the Southeast Asian countries really gain their independence some decades ago? Were the famous merdeka shouts just a big farce? Is it true that Thailand was ‘never colonized’? Is this entire huge region still a de facto colony? And if it is, can the situation change?

These are not just rhetorical questions; they are real. And the answers to them are never simple.

The People of Southeast Asia were violated, robbed and then encircled by pseudo-reality; by lies about their past and present. They were told that they are well, happy, and that what they are experiencing is progress, freedom and democracy. They were also ordered to believe that what their usurper, the West, represents, is synonymous with ‘good governance’ and honesty. Many of them have never encountered any alternative views.

After burying tens of millions of corpses, and after having their rainforests, rivers and mountains thoroughly ruined, most of the Southeast Asians are still convinced that their tormentors are fully qualified to control the world.

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Beyond NATO: Time To Break The Silence, End NATO’s Militarism

Source No2NATO2019.org.

Fifty-two years ago on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  gave his most important speech ever, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” King’s conscience drove him to take the unpopular position of publicly criticizing the Vietnam War and putting it in the context of the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.” The message of that speech remains relevant today because its wisdom has not been heeded.

We put this in the context of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) because this year on April 4, the anniversary of that speech and the anniversary of the murder of King by the government, NATO will be holding its 70th anniversary meeting in Washington, DC. Protests and other activities are being planned.

NATO is a front for Western military aggression, which has resulted in destruction around the world, mass deaths and mass migration as people are forced from their NATO-destroyed communities. It’s time to end it.

No to NATO! : Newport, August 30, 2014. From Rtuc’s Blog.

Would Dr. King oppose NATO?

That is the question asked by the Black Alliance for Peace on this birthday weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Alliance explains why Dr. King would speak out against NATO if he were alive today:

Dr. King would be opposed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) because it is an instrument of US and European militarism. He would not be confused—and neither are we—about why the liberal establishment, neocons, military-industrial complex, corporations and the corporate media are opposed to ending an anachronistic structure. NATO’s only reason for being today is to serve as the military wing of the dying U.S.-European colonial project.

Black Alliance for Peace is not alone in seeing the reality of NATO as an aggressive arm of the US military. In the Chicago Tribune, Victor Davis Hanson writes, “In an era when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are now ancient history, everyone praises NATO as ‘indispensable’ and ‘essential’ to Western solidarity and European security. But few feel any need to explain how and why that could still be so.”

The truth is NATO is not only not indispensable or essential — it is counterproductive. It creates conflicts and is being used as an aggressive military tool. Among the wars of NATO are Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen as well as Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia

In NATO is a Danger, Not a Guarantor of Peace, the American Conservative describes how NATO was appropriate when it was created to deter Russian aggression, but that was only necessary prior to the dissolution of the soviet union. It writes that NATO “has maintained a destabilizing posture toward Russia ever since” and urges Trump to return to his campaign view that NATO is obsolete, a position he has backtracked from saying he just didn’t know much about it.

David Swanson of World Beyond War describes how NATO works against the rule of law writing, “NATO is used within the US and by other NATO members as cover to wage wars under the pretense that they are somehow more legal or acceptable.”

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the excuse for NATO ended. Indeed, it is well known that Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders received assurances that NATO would not expand. These assurances came not only from President George H.W. Bush but also from West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher; West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl; former CIA Director Robert Gates; French leader Francois Mitterrand; Margaret Thatcher; British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd; and Manfred Woerner, the NATO secretary-general.

Instead of ending NATO after it no longer served any defensive military purpose, NATO expanded to 29 nations, 13 since the end of the Soviet Union, including countries on the border of Russia. One of the reasons for the US coup in Ukraine was to antagonize Russia and prevent access to its naval fleet through Crimea. Ukraine is now partnering with NATO.

The current US national military strategy calls for conflict with Russia and China. NATO continuously expanding, conducting military exercises and putting bases, missiles and other military equipment on the Russian border are part of that strategy. NATO has even expanded to Colombia, which borders Venezuela, another nation the US has threatened with war while conducting an economic war and regime change operations there.

A coalition of more than 100 organizations that are calling for an end to NATO describes its devastating impact:

NATO has been the world’s deadliest military alliance, causing untold suffering and devastation throughout Northern Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Hundreds of thousands have died in U.S./NATO wars in Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yugoslavia. Millions of refugees are now risking their lives trying to escape the carnage that these wars have brought to their homelands, while workers in the 29 NATO member-countries are told they must abandon hard-won social programs in order to meet U.S. demands for even more military spending.

King delivering his speech “Beyond Vietnam” at New York City’s Riverside Church in 1967 (John C. Goodwin, TIME Magazine)

Dr. King’s Clarion Call Needs to be Acted On

In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr., warned, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” He described how militarism was destroying the soul of the United States and called for an end to the Vietnam war. He described in excruciating detail the US destruction of Vietnam, mass bombings, napalm, poisoning of their water and land and the killing of more than a million Vietnamese. He said a foreign policy based on violence and domination abroad, leads to violence and domination at home, and he urged “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”

Time has shown the truth of his message as militarized police terrorize poor communities and are used to silence dissent, creating a war at home. Other aspects of the war at home are the injustice system, mass incarceration, the lack of social supports and the exploitation of workers and the environment.

King described how war degrades US soldiers who realize “we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.” King said he could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor “as poor blacks and whites” from the United States were “burning the huts of a poor village” 8,000 miles away. The dehumanization and contempt of “other” people, he noted, leads to the persecution and death of black people in the United States.

King saw war as “a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”  He accurately predicted that if we did not face this reality, US militarism would spread throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today the US has 883 foreign military bases with troops deployed in 149 countries and sells or gives weapons to 98 countries. He described how the US keeps troops in foreign lands to “maintain social stability for our investments accounts.” He described US imperialism as based on “refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment. “

King connected the extreme materialism of capitalism to militarization and racism, describing a “thing-oriented” society rather than a “person-oriented” society and how “profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people.” He described the new hopes in the nation as the government confronted poverty with new programs to uplift the poor, but how he “watched this program broken and eviscerated” as war funding stole from funding the necessities of the people.

Today, US military spending of more than a trillion dollars – the Pentagon alone is $717 billion – accounts for more than 65% of discretionary spending while poverty and homelessness rise. King called for a transformational change as an “edifice which produces beggars needs re-structuring” and urged us to “look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.” The wealth divide today has worsened with three people having wealth equal to half the population. King criticized “capitalists” who sought to take the wealth of nations across the globe.

Members of various groups planning to protest the Nato summit including Jesse McAdoo, from the People’s Summit, Aaron Hughes from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Andy Thayer, protest organizer talk to the media Thursday May 10, 2012 in Chicago. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune) …..

The Insult of NATO Celebrating War-Making In Washington, DC on April 4

On April 4, NATO will be holding meetings in Washington, DC. This is an insult to the memory of Dr. King and what he stood for. The Peace Congress, which was held in place of Trump’s cancelled military parade, called for people to unify around protests against NATO during their meetings.

The No2NATO2019 coalition, which is organizing protests against NATO, writes:

… in a grotesque desecration of Rev. King’s lifelong dedication to peace, this is the date that the military leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have chosen to celebrate NATO’s 70th anniversary by holding its annual summit meeting in Washington, D.C. This is a deliberate insult to Rev. King and a clear message that Black lives and the lives of non-European humanity, and indeed the lives of the vast majority, really do not matter.

World Beyond War is organizing No to NATO — Yes to Peace Festival, which will include an art build, food, music and teach-ins on April 3 and a march from the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on April 4.

People are planning to organize strategic, nonviolent protests against NATO’s meetings and organizing non-violent direct action training to prepare for them. Learn more about all of the events and how you can participate.

On this holiday weekend, we reflect on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who urged us to “re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.” Protest to end NATO will be a step towards ending what King called “the deadly western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.” It is time for peace to “take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

Afghanistan in 2019: Fewer US Troops, More CIA Torture and Killings

No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept…. It is a vestigial limb of empire, and it is time to let it go.

– Op-Ed by Robert D. Kaplan, The New York Times, January 1, 2019

This is the voice of American imperialism speaking through one of its more reliable hand-puppets. Foreign Policy has twice named Robert Kaplan one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” In his op-ed, Kaplan blames Afghanistan’s current problems on the illegal US war on Iraq in 2003, adding parenthetically and without further explanation: “which I mistakenly supported.” The unintended joke here is that he frames the Iraq War as a mistake largely because it diverted the US from nation-building in Afghanistan. Yes, he says exactly that. He has nothing to say about either war’s criminality or US atrocities. Those are not serious concerns for the imperial mindset – those are just the necessary inconveniences of maintaining an empire. He even appears unaware that his formulation about Afghanistan and the decline of the American empire perfectly fits the historical reality of US defeat in Vietnam.

On New Year’s Eve, the day before Kaplan’s op-ed, the lengthy lead story in the Times was headlined: “CIA-Led Afghan Forces Leave Grim Trail of Abuse.” This report is based on months of reporting on night raids, torture, and summary executions of Afghan civilians carried out by CIA-trained death squads, euphemistically called “strike forces” in the paper. The instances described in the report are horrifying and savage. In one, the death squad puts bags over the heads of two brothers, executing them with their families in the next room. For good measure, the death squad blew up the room where the bodies lay.

Perhaps it’s just another sign of American psychic numbing, but the Times story seems to have provoked little response from other media, from politicians of any stripe, or from the public. More American war crimes in some Muslim country? Well, Happy New Year!

The US invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, under Operation Enduring Freedom, accusing the Taliban of harboring some of the 9/11 attackers, most of whom were Saudis. More to the point, the US has been creating havoc in Afghanistan at least since 1979, when we started training the mujahedeen to fight the Russians only to receive “our” Islamist radicals’ blowback at the Twin Towers. Afghanistan is a country about the size of Texas with a population of about 35 million (almost 40% literate). Some 63% of the population is under 25 years old and so has little conscious memory of a time when Afghans weren’t the targets of the American war machine.

Presently the US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, but nobody now quite knows how long they’ll be there. Mostly what US troops do is protect the official government from the apparent majority of the population that prefers the Taliban or some imaginary other option. The Afghan government controls little more than half the country most of the time. All sides have been killing civilians at the rate of about 8,000 a year for several years now, with the US and allies doing most of the killing. At least 18 CIA operatives were killed in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2017. This disproportionately deadly toll has not done much to win the hearts and minds of the people, but in seventeen years, the US hasn’t figured out how to do anything else better than create carnage.

The CIA-run death squad campaign isn’t new, but it has been seriously expanded during the past two years. Death squad personnel run into the thousands, mostly Afghans, but are recruited, trained, equipped, and controlled by CIA agents or CIA contractors. They operate independently of the US military command, typically without the military’s knowledge. They are effectively terrorist cells. They carry out night raids, long opposed by the Afghan government and the population at large. The night raids target civilians the CIA thinks it has reason to assassinate or capture and torture. The Times report describes survivors of night raids, all of whom insist on their innocence. There is no official accountability for these terrorist tactics:

A spokeswoman for the C.I.A. would not comment, nor would Afghans directly involved with the forces. Afghan security officials in Kabul tried to play down the level of the forces’ autonomy and the nature of their abuses. When pressed with details of specific cases, they did not respond.

And there is no evidence that these terrorist tactics are doing any good in a country that has despised foreign invaders for centuries. Virtually the same US terror tactics failed spectacularly in Vietnam. There the CIA mounted the infamous Phoenix Program to terrorize South Vietnamese villages with CIA-run death squads who “neutralized more than 80,000 real or suspected Viet Cong”.

Once Osama bin Laden escaped capture in 2001, the US war in Afghanistan lacked any clear mission. The Bush administration and the military shifted their attention to making war on Iraq instead. Failing to disengage sensibly from Afghanistan, the US let the war drift on mindlessly. In 2009, President Obama declared Afghanistan the “smart war” and decided to escalate it without really figuring out why. Obama relied particularly on CIA drones to kill massive numbers of people, mostly civilians, ultimately to no useful purpose.

In 2016, President Trump campaigned on getting out of Afghanistan. Once in office, Trump appointed Mike Pompeo to run the CIA. Pompeo set out to expand CIA killing, particularly with the death squads discreetly called “strike forces” by the Times. This paramilitary escalation, primarily against the Taliban, was first reported in October 2017, creating little stir. Six months later, the  CIA still denied the story was true. In the fall of 2017, Pompeo expressed US policy this way:

We can’t perform our mission if we’re not aggressive. This is unforgiving, relentless. You pick the word. Every minute, we have to be focused on crushing our enemies.

At the same time, the Institute for Public Policy had a different perspective, offered by former State Department career officer Matthew Hoh, who served in Afghanistan. Hoh had resigned in 2009 in protest against the Obama administration escalation of the war there. Calling the 2017 CIA’s expanded death squads part of “the broader war campaign of the United States in the Muslim world,” Hoh accurately predicted:

This CIA program of using Afghan militias to conduct commando raids, the vast majority of which will be used against civilians despite what the CIA states, falls in line with American plans to escalate the use of air and artillery strikes against the Afghan people in Taliban-held areas, almost all of whom are Pashtuns. Again, the purpose of this campaign is not to achieve a political settlement or reconciliation, but to brutally subjugate and punish the people, mostly rural Pashtuns, who support the Taliban and will not give in to the corrupt American run government in Kabul.

Since 2001, the US has watched passively as three presidents waged war on Afghanistan, each committing war crimes and crimes against humanity that would surely, in a just society, constitute impeachable offenses. For all the public splutter of self-designated serious people over the possible withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria, the absence of real reaction to how badly it’s all going in Afghanistan is sort of amazing (or would be for anyone still capable of amazement).

What Happens if the French Yellow Vests Win?

What if protesters in Paris win, and the French government gives in to all their demands?

What if taxes are reduced, wages increased, President Macron steps down?

I am not talking only about the fuel tax; attempts to impose it have been already abandoned. I am not talking about increase of the minimum wage – the government already agreed to rise it by 100 euro per month.

What I am talking about are real, fundamental changes which many protesters seem to be desiring: substantial tax reduction for the majority of French citizens, generous increase in wages and enhancement of social benefits for all.

So, if the Yellow Vests manage to win all this, then what will happen? Who would benefit? But also, who would lose?

*****

One of my readers recently wrote to me that France should reduce its military budget and from those billions of euro saved, could easily finance demands of the protesters.

Another reader wrote that the richest citizens of France (or call them ‘elites’) should be taxed heavily, and the money saved in this way could be then distributed among the poor and the lower middle class.

Sounds ‘reasonable’? Yes, definitely; reasonable and logical. The only tiny defect is: we all know that it will never happen this way.

President Macron was elevated to the throne by precisely those so-called elites. In return, those rich folks expect their privileges to be guaranteed, even swollen.

And to imagine that a NATO member country (in this case France) would suddenly slash its military budget and from what is saved, start to finance various new social programs for the poor and the middle class, is unrealistic, even childish.

So where will the funds come from, if the French government decides to do something truly ‘radical’; radical at least by the standards of our era of turbo-capitalism: to listen to its own people?

Let me stop beating about the bush and ask my question brutally and concretely: “What if all demands of the Yellow Vests get satisfied; who will pay the bill?”

*****

To put all this into a context: I write this essay in Hanoi, capital of socialist Vietnam.

Some time ago, I used to live in this city. I spent almost three years here, when it was still poor, and people remembered war, some even the French colonialism.

Right after I arrived, what shocked me the most was that while the Vietnamese people seemed to ‘forgive’ the USA, they had never forgiven the French colonialists.

“Why?” I asked my friends. “How is it possible? Wasn’t the US bombing and killing campaign during the ‘American War’ (which is known in the West as ‘Vietnam War’) terribly brutal, with millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians losing their lives?”

“Of course, it was”, I was readily explained. “But we fought and, despite the terrible losses and hardship, we defeated Americans in relatively short time. And anyway, it was not only them; members of the coalition also consisted of countries like South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Thailand, and of course, France.”

And the story continued:

The French were occupying and tormenting us for much longer. They also had been humiliating our people, continuously. They enslaved up, tortured us, took our women, they raped them, and they had stolen all that we had.

Near where I used to live, was a notorious “Central Jail”, equipped with guillotines, torture chambers, solitary confinement cells. Now, on exhibit there, are monstrous instruments used by the French colonizers, to torture and rape captured Vietnamese patriot women: beer bottles, electric wires, walking canes.

Liberty-Equality-Fraternity but only for French

Whatever the colonized Indochina had, was stolen: taken to France, in order to finance construction of grandiose theatres, railroads, metro, parks, and universities. And, yes, to subsidize formation of that famous French social system which, as the Yellow Vests are now correctly saying, is being dismantled by the French ‘elites’ and by the political system which they are fully controlling.

Vietnamese people fought bravely against the French, finally defeating them during an iconic battle at Dien Bien Phu. But the victorious Vietnamese Communist forces inherited ransacked, divided land, stripped of its resources and even of its art work (several French intellectuals, including famous writer and later Minister of Culture in de Gaulle’s government, Andre Malraux, confessed to stealing art objects from ‘Indochina’, when he lived there as a young man).

Needless to say, that until now, French companies are brutally pillaging many parts of Southeast Asia, through mining and other neo-colonialist projects, as they do in various areas of Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Now ask in Hanoi, ask in Phnom Penh or Vientiane, whether people of ‘Indochina’ (what an insulting and bizarre name was given to this part of the world by the French, during the colonial era!) are supporting Yellow Vests in Paris? Ask whether they think that if they win concessions in Paris, it would improve life in Asia.

Are you guessing what the answer would be?

*****

I don’t say that demands of the people who are fighting in the streets of Paris are wrong. They are not. They are absolutely legitimate.

French elites are brutal, selfish, even perverse. Present French government is simply serving them, as the US presidents are all serving huge corporations, including those deadly military conglomerates. ‘They should go’, they should disappear, give way to what is logical human evolutionary pattern: a socialist, egalitarian society.

But they are not ready to go. On the contrary. They are robbing, for centuries, entire planet, and now they went so far as to plundering their own people (who were used to sharing the booty).

French citizens are not used to being plundered. For centuries they lived well, and for several last decades, they were living ‘extremely well’. They were enjoying some of the most generous benefits anywhere in the world.

Who paid for it? Did it matter? Was it ever important to those in Paris, in other big cities, or in the countryside? Were the French farmers wondering how come they were getting generous subsidies when they were producing excessive amounts of food and wine, but also when they were asked by the government not to produce much of anything? Did they often travel to Senegal, or elsewhere in West Africa, to investigate how these subsidies thoroughly destroyed agriculture sector in several former French colonies? Did they care that lives of millions there were totally ruined? Or that as far as Indonesia or Brazil, French corporations have been, aggressively, taking over food and beverage production, as well as food distribution, and that as a result, food prices in many poor countries skyrocketed to double or triple of what they are in Paris, while the local incomes remain, in some cases, only 10% of those in France?

And the food is only one example. But this essay was supposed to be about something slightly different: about the Yellow Vests, and what will happen if all of their demands would be met.

*****

If we agree that the regime that is governing in France, entire West, and in many of its colonies and neo-colonies, is truly monstrous, perverse and brutal, we have to come to a logical conclusion that it is not going to pay the bill for better medical care, education, as well as lower taxes and higher wages of the ordinary French citizens.

If demands of the protesters are met, there will be someone else who will be forced to cover the bill. Most likely tens of millions, or hundreds of millions will be ‘taxed’. And they will not be living in France, or in the European Union, or even anywhere near.

Are protesters of Mouvement des gilets jaunes, thinking about this? Does it matter to them at least a little bit?

It did not in the past, either. Perhaps when few people like Jean Paul Sartre were still alive, these questions were periodically asked. But not lately; not now. Not during this rebellion on Champs-Élysées.

Do people in France question how many millions would have to die in order to improve the quality of life in the French cities and in provinces?

Or perhaps, to ‘compensate’, to cover the social spending, some country would ‘have to be’ invaded? Would it be Iran? Or maybe Venezuela?

The New York Times, in one of its articles about the French provinces, mentioned that people were complaining they cannot afford to even take their wives to a restaurant for dinner, anymore. That is truly serious, but would it justify a battle for Iran or Venezuela, and their consequent plunder, or would it excuse massacre of further few hundreds of thousands of West Papuans?

*****

I would suggest something that would help to convince the true internationalists, as well as people all over the pillaged world, that the Mouvement des gilets jaunes is not just selfishly fighting for the benefits that would improve lives of the French citizens, at the expense of many others all over the world:

They should indicate that they understand; that they are not indifferent to others. Say clearly that they are against capitalism and imperialism, against colonialism and plundering of the people and their resources in absolutely all parts of our Planet!

Say that they are for freedom, equality, and fraternity of all human beings, not just French!

Say that this is true revolution, true battle for improving the world, not just for more money, lower taxes, and better benefits exclusively for people who are living in France!

Say that they would never accept any benefits or extra money, if they come from robbing poor and colonized nations of all that have left.

If they do say all this, and if they demonstrate that they truly mean it, I will have to shout Vive la Révolution! and join them – the protesters – wholeheartedly.

But until they do, until I am convinced that their victory would not harm others, millions of others, I’ll continue to be much more concerned about people of Vietnam and Papua, about Iran, Africa, Syria or the entire Middle East, than about whether some one individual in rural France can afford to take his wife for dinner to a restaurant.

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

A Spiritual Special Ops Team’s Christmas Gift

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater.  The clown came out to inform the public.  They thought it was a jest and applauded.  He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder.  So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.

— Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

It was snowing hard in the days before Christmas in 1972 as I sat at my writing desk looking out the back window toward the woods that were filling up with snow.  I felt trapped by the heavy snow that made the roads impassable, but even more so by the contemplation of the barbaric “Christmas Bombing” of North Vietnam carried out by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and their associated war criminals.  I was filled with despair and imagined the snow turning red with blood.  Earlier that fall, I, together with a thousand others, had been arrested for protesting the dispatching of these B-52 bombers that were indiscriminately massacring Vietnamese.  The corporate media, accomplices to war crimes then and now, refused to report on the demonstration and the large number of arrests, despite repeated requests to do so.  They were just doing their job.

So here we are again as Christmas approaches.  The same corporate media obsess about Trump as if something has changed over the decades. Nothing has, except for a growing gulf between reality and fantasy, not a small thing.  Between Nixon and Trump lies a vacuity of leadership and a history of evil war-making that the media have disappeared, just as they have disappeared the message of peace that connects Christmas to Good Friday, in favor of corporate capitalism’s favorite season of consumption and memory loss. Thus they have accompanied and promoted the growth of the malignant American empire and its violent expansion across the world. But if one knew the history of those years, one could perhaps find one’s way out of the forest of lies into the clearing of truth, a very big thing indeed.  Here’s a bit.

Nixon was first elected in 1968 as a “peace candidate” and proceeded to wage savage attacks on Vietnam and secretly on Laos and Cambodia.  He was elected after having treasonously sabotaged a Vietnam peace deal, but the American people in their naivety believed his lies and elected him.  After four years of savage war-making and the Watergate break-in, they reelected him in a landslide with the aid of the 18 year old vote, when his opponent, Democratic Senator George McGovern, who campaigned on ending the war and granting amnesty to draft evaders, received 17 electoral votes to Nixon’s 520. So much for war crimes. Then came Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, William Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama – liars and war-mongers all (I will spare you the details that are easily available) – and now we have Trump, who is no different, just far weirder and therefore a cause of some embarrassment to those who deal the cards.

Nine presidents who claim to be Christians, whose founder was executed by the Roman state for advocating love, not war; presidents who, when they die, we are told by the media, go straight to heaven as their presidential brothers in crime and their acolytes gather round to pray, hold hands, and beam them up in language that would make an idiot laugh.  Don’t bother to send in the clowns; they’re here. They gather periodically in the National Cathedral and other Washington, D.C. venues to give us a laugh. But who is laughing at these jokesters who are an embarrassment to the human race?

When JFK was executed by the U.S. national security state for planning to end the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the nuclear arms race, he was succeeded by another “peace” candidate, Lyndon Johnson, number ten on the list of good Christian Presidents, who claimed his opponent in the 1964 election was prepared to nuke the world; so Johnson only proceeded to escalate the war against Vietnam in the most barbarous ways imaginable, killing millions and using young American war-slaves (draftees) to do so.

But enough history.  A little bit can make one laugh; delving deep can shock one into an awareness that we have been snowed for a long time and that that sense of despair and entrapment I felt at Christmas 1972 may run deep into the American soul.  Perhaps.

But of happiness and despair we have no measure.  What we can measure is the increase in the possibility that nuclear war may happen, making all possibility impossible. Do we need a comedian to tell us that the fire next time will be the last time; that the tinder is set and the match ready to strike?  How long will the American people go on believing the absurd lies of the politicians and their sycophantic media mouthpieces that it is the Russians who wish to bury us and are preparing to do so, when the United States continues to offensively provoke Russia in Ukraine and eastern Europe and has pulled out of all treaties that might help prevent nuclear war?  The writing is on the wall.

When we think of nuclear war, we enter the realm of the religious.  Once upon a time the power to destroy the world was reserved for God.  With the invention of nuclear weapons that power, and its accompanying symbolism that runs deep into our psyches, passed to the possessors of nuclear weapons.  In the U.S., our psychopathic nuclearists like to play the religious clowns by jocularly naming weapons of mass extinction and their delivery systems in such a way as to reduce them to sick  jokes (“Fat Man” and “Little Boy”), an ancient god’s spear (Trident), and even the body of Christ ( the nuclear submarine the “Corpus Christ”). Although they have set the world on a course toward extinction, it’s all a joke to them.

Last month in a courthouse in Georgia, a hearing was held for seven Catholic peacemakers who take the possibility of nuclear war very seriously and believe Kierkegaard’s clown.  They have acted on their Christian faith that there is a direct link from a child born in a manger to a man executed by the state on a cross and the hope of an Easter rising.  They know the theater is on fire.  On April 4, 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the national security state’s execution of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, they entered into the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, the east coast home of the Trident submarines that carry half the American strategic nuclear warheads, where they poured their own blood and indicted the military for crimes against peace.  Their actions follow a long string of such actions that have followed from the actions of the Catonsville Nine when they burned draft records in Catonsville, Maryland on May 17, 1968, six weeks after King’s murder and a few before Bobby Kennedy suffered the same fate at the hands of the same killers.  At Catonsville, the words that Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. read over the flaming basket of draft files ring true today as they always will:

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.

For we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children. And for thinking of that other Child, of whom the poet Luke speaks. The infant was taken up in the arms of an old man, whose tongue grew resonant and vatic at the touch of that beauty.

And the old man spoke; this child is set for the fall and rise of many in Israel, a sign that is spoken against. Small consolation; a child born to make trouble, and to die for it, the First Jew (not the last) to be subject of a “definitive solution.” He sets up the cross and dies on it; in the Rose Garden of the executive mansion, on the D.C. Mall, in the courtyard of the Pentagon.

We see the sign, we read the direction: you must bear with us, for his sake. Or if you will not, the consequences are our own. For it will be easy, after all, to discredit us. Our record is bad; trouble makers in church and state, a priest married despite his vows, two convicted felons.

We have jail records, we have been turbulent, uncharitable, we have failed in love for the brethren, have yielded to fear and despair and pride, often in our lives. Forgive us. We are no more, when the truth is told, than ignorant beset men, jockeying against all chance, at the hour of death, for a place at the right hand of the dying one.

These current witnesses for peace in Georgia include long-term peace activists Elizabeth McAlister, 78, of Baltimore; Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly, 69, of the Bay Area in California; Carmen Trotta, 55, of New York City; Clare Grady, 50, of Ithaca, New York; Martha Hennessy, 62, of New York, granddaughter of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day; Mark Colville, 55, of New Haven, Connecticut; and Patrick O’Neill, 61, of Garner, North Carolina.

At this hearing, Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi testified on their behalf that they were doing what Christians are called to do: resist war and the weapons of war, especially nuclear weapons that are sinful and that will destroy all of creation if used.  He said they were “a spiritual special ops team.”

They are being charged by the government with conspiracy, trespass, and destruction and depredation of government property, charges they are seeking to have dismissed.  The judge in the case has said the hearing will be continued at an unspecified future date.

And perhaps at another unspecified date – today? Christmas? – the gift that such courageous people offer to us will be accepted and we will come to the realization that time is short, as it always is in genuine living, and the evil that glides silently under the seas with those Trident submarines will be recognized for what it is: the evil that resides in us when we refuse to unwrap the gift that this spiritual special op team offers us and we continue to dwell in the illusionary unreality of the American dream that is sustained by lies, myths, and what Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by Hitler for his ant-Nazi dissidence, called “cheap grace” that we bestow on ourselves – the belief that our “leaders” mean well.

They don’t.

Escape From The Infomatrix

For four long months I’ve been in hiding from The Infomatrix.  Inspired both by a dire need for inner peace and an article titled: “Society is Made of Narrative.  Realizing This Is Awakening From The Matrix” by Caitlin Johnstone, I’ve gone into nearly complete informational and electronic detox.  No television, no radio, no internet (except a short email visit daily), no books, no magazines, no political circus, no celebrity gossip, no sports scores, no incessant and obnoxious advertisements, no mindless chatter, none of Empire’s Official Narrative.  Only music fills the air and beautifies the passage of time in my home.

The result has been many hours of introspection, and a rethinking of how a seventy year old hippie might use his last few fading years on this planet more productively.  Sadly, I came to realize that, even though I’ve long considered myself separate from, and even immune from The Infomatrix, complete escape is nearly impossible  I was sucked into the narrative each time I marched for a cause.  I was sucked into the narrative every time I wrote an article examining or dissecting the narrative.  I’ve long been unknowingly and inadvertantly distracted by the shiny, sparkling objects of Empire, but have now begun writing my own narrative.

My new narrative is an unfinished project.  The Age of Aquarius kicked off to a strong start back about a half century ago, but stopped far short of accomplishing all those elusive hopes and dreams of peace on earth, good will to all people.  We marched defiantly in the streets of Amerika, burning the flags of the criminal Empire which terrorized Southeast Asia for power and profit.  We threw our bodies upon the gears of draft boards which sought our complicity in their crimes.  We broke windows, disrupted traffic, interrupted commerce, and as we burned our draft cards, lit a small flame of Amerikan consciousness, and finally saw an end to The Vietnam War.  Then, with our asses out of harm’s way, we cut our hair and went to work for the system which needed more and more Vietnams to continue business as usual.  But its wars became much more low key  Which of us really knew where Grenada is?  The bloody spectacles of Vietnam would never again be displayed on the nightly news.  War became sanitized, and more of a fireworks show as far as most folks were concerned.  The rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.  There was something oddly patriotic about all the bombing, in a very sick way, and few of us gave pause to consider the dead, dismembered bodies in its wake.

My new narrative is all about finishing the project, and remembering that this was supposed to be The Age of Aquarius, but this so-called land of the free and brave never really set foot outside The Age of Darkness and Death.  You remember The Age of Aquarius, don’t you?  That Never-Neverland where the entire planet unites in common goals.  Where war is relegated to history books, and the worldwide military apparatus is dismantled and abandoned.  Where we, as citizens of Earth, are free to wander the sphere at will. Where food, shelter, medical care, and education are rights, not privileges.  That seemingly unattainable Twilight Zone where peace will guide the planet, and love will steer the stars.  That next HUGE step in the evolution of homo sapiens, out of the darkness and into the light.

Of course, the major impediment to giving a good kick start to sanity is that the breeding colony of international pirates who conceived of and built The USA upon the dead bodies of the indigenous population, and upon the strong backs of captive Africans, has quite a large monetary stake in this, owns and operates all the politicians, police forces, and military, and won’t likely just hand over the keys to the kingdom.  Some things never change.  The pirates have only become more adept and surreptitious about their ongoing mass-murder at home and abroad, and ability to control the national dialogue via The Infomatrix.  God bless these United States of America, pray for our troops, God bless our snipers, and God bless the best dang democracy money can buy!

So I don’t know how much writing I’ll be doing in the immediate future.  I’ll be out there mingling with a few of the good people of this community, doing my very best to suck a few of them out of The Infomatrix to some degree.  Those of us who seek finally and fully attaining something strongly resembling The Age of Aquarius have a vast number of natural allies in this great Christian Nation. Unfortunately, the majority seem to have fallen victim to the incessant Infomatrix chatter about Our Christian Nation…which, by association, means that OUR bombs were ordained by God, of course.  But, goddamn it, bombs just ain’t what Jesus was about.  If he existed at all, he was a revolutionary, a rebel, an enemy of The Roman Empire.  And, unless I’m mistaken, he was all about LOVE, and those bumper stickers are asking just the right question:  “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”

My new narrative is about Revolution.  Of course, armed revolution would be foolish, and the violence would defeat the purpose.  The New Amerikan Revolution must have its basis in love, and love alone.  People in the know will tell you that unarmed revolution is impossible, but I think I hear John Lennon singing “All You Need Is Love”, and he’s right.  Love is all you need.  There is no love in bombs, and it really shouldn’t be that difficult to convince more than a few Christians that they should quit voting people into office who authorize warfare.  If the freaking Age of Aquarius isn’t a mirror image of what Christ was preaching, I’ll be damned.  But I’ve been damned before.  The first thing which those of us who challenge the official narrative must do find a way to defund the War Machine, and unfortunately, as much as I hate the idea…it will have to be done within the existing, ridiculous, rigged, so-called 2-party system.  Either within or without the two established parties.  And yes, boys and girls, some of us rebels living out here on the fringe of society will have to run for public office.  Even if only to make some noise, and call some public attention to the fledgling Peace Movement. This could be exciting stuff.  Street theater.  Recreate yourself!  Take a new narrative to the streets.  Don’t be shy. Share your wisdom…gently.  Wisely and cautiously.  It’s not an easy task to convince someone that they just might have a few important misconceptions

And now my hair grows long.  Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen hair…but gray, of course.  There will be no more haircuts.  I’m taking kindness lessons from my friend Santo, and learning the A to Z of yoga from Amy and Zoee.  I’ve taken the first and most important step toward world peace by becoming vegan.  I walk forth upon this earth now with renewed enthusiasm and purpose.  At seventy years of age, I find that I am completely fearless.  “What is the purpose of life?” asks Kurt Vonnegut in “Breakfast of Champions”.  “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.” he answers.  And that about sums it up.  If this Age of Aquarius is going to grow wings and fly, it’s going to take considerable effort from the likes of you and me.

Because here’s the thing…No, let’s let Caitlin Johnstone end this piece:

Because here’s the thing: since it’s all narrative, anything is possible. Those who see this have the ability to plunge toward health and human thriving without any regard for the made-up reasons why such a thing is impossible, and plant seeds of light which sprout in unprecedented directions that never could have been predicted by someone plugged into to establishment how-it-is stories. Together, we can determine how society will be. We can re-write the rules. We are re-writing the rules. It’s begun already.

Why aren’t more young people involved in the anti-war movement?

CODEPINK protesters at the Women’s March on the Pentagon this October. (Photo courtesy of Jodie Evans)

What comes to mind when you hear the words “anti-war protest”? Most Americans will picture the protests against the Vietnam war in the sixties and early seventies, an era famous for its youth and student-led movements. In the decades since the Vietnam war ended, youth involvement in peace movements has dwindled. Many young people were involved in protests against the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003, but the organizers were mainly older, and a widespread youth movement against the War on Terror never took off.

As a high-school graduate who has recently become involved with the anti-war movement, I can’t help but notice how few peers I have at most of the explicitly anti-war events I attend–despite my generation having a reputation for being especially politically active. Here are some reasons for this disengagement:

It’s all we’ve ever known. The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, meaning any American age 17 or younger has never known a time when their country wasn’t at war. Most young people don’t even remember 9/11. The moment that ignited the years-long “War on Terror” barely weighs on my generation’s collective memory. It’s so easy for Generation Z to ignore war since it has always been a part of our lives.

There are so many problems at home to deal with. Why should we care what’s happening on the other side of the world when the police here at home are shooting unarmed black people, when millions of young people can’t afford a college education or leave college burdened with enormous debts, when millions of Americans can’t afford adequate health care, when immigrants are being deported and locked in cages, when there are mass shootings every few weeks, when the planet is burning? Obviously, we have a lot of other issues on our minds.

We are not at risk. The US hasn’t had a draft since 1973, and there haven’t been war-related deaths on American soil since World War II. It has been decades since Americans were in immediate danger of being killed by war, either as civilians or as draftees. And unless they have a loved one in the military or relatives living in a warring country, the lives of young Americans are not directly impacted by war. And yes, there have been a few terrorist attacks on US soil committed by foreigners since 9/11, but they are few and they are far outnumbered by attacks committed by Americans.

It doesn’t feel worth the effort. Eliminating militarism and ending war is a tedious, long-term endeavor. It would be incredibly difficult to make enough of a change to see direct, tangible results. Many young people might decide it is a better use of their time and energy to direct their efforts toward another cause.

Of course, everyone should care about the brutality of war, even if it has no obvious impact on us or seems daunting. However, few people seem to realize how deeply we all are affected by militarism.The increased militarization of the police is directly related to the rise in police brutality. The military’s incredibly high budget takes away money that could be used for social programs like universal healthcare and free higher education. And war has a tremendous negative impact on the environment. No matter what cause you feel most passionate about, ending America’s culture of militarism would benefit it.

How do we engage young people in anti-war activism? As with nearly every issue, I believe education is the place to start. If more people knew about the effects of militarism and understood the intersections between militarism and other forms of oppression, surely they would be compelled to work toward a peaceful society.

All this is not to say older people shouldn’t be involved in the anti-war movement. On the contrary, I think it is essential for this and all progressive movements to be multi generational. Young activists have so much to learn from those who came before us. Older people provide a unique perspective, can share the wisdom they’ve accumulated over the years, and often have more time to devote to activism than students and young parents. However, if more young people do not get involved with anti-war activism, the movement will die out. Furthermore, young people also bring unique advantages to any movement. We tend to be full of enthusiasm, comfortable with technology, and open to new ideas and methods. Young people have a lot to learn from older people, and vice versa. A productive and robust movement must accommodate and emphasize the talents of all generations.

Unfortunately, the US involvement in war shows no signs of slowing down. As long as war exists, so must an anti-war movement. As we seek new ways to rein in the war machine, let us both embrace the veterans of the movement and encourage young people to join its ranks.